Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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More on the Growing Criminal-Terror Nexus
Those who are skeptical of the growing ties between drug trafficking organizations and terrorist groups-which I think will be the real war we will be fighting for many years, given the resources obtainable by drug trafficking organizations-should read the latest UN Office of Drugs and Crime report.

Among the many interesting findings is that the two areas of greatest increase in illicit production of drugs in the world are in the hands of designated terrorist groups: the Taliban in Afghanistan and the FARC in Colombia.

A third party involved in the expansion of drug production is Burma, a rogue criminal state. This bodes ill for the rest of the world.

As Antonio Maria Costa, director of the agency, told the AP:

"The explosion of narcotics in those areas is explained by their presence (the terrorist groups) and the protection they offer," Costa told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday.

"I believe that slowly these people, although politically motivated at the beginning, are becoming a kind of organized crime," he said. "Money tends to stick to fingers, and a big lump of money becomes very problematic."

The numbers should alarm policy makers and the intelligence and law enforcement communities.

Afghanistan saw a 17 percent increase in opium production, and now accounts for 92 percent of the world's heroin. Some 80 percent of the poppy was grown in five southern provinces where Taliban fighters profit from drugs.

Burma, which is able to control the country so that almost no disaster relief can reach starving citizens, somehow managed to let its opium crop increase 29 percent. It's poppies are not as productive as those in Afghanistan, so it share of the world market is not so high.

But, if you can block the arrival of clean drinking water and emergency foodstuffs, one would think that controlling poppy crops with the state security apparatus would be a piece of cake. Unless the state did not want to.

Colombia saw a 27 percent increase in coca production, and continues to produce about two-thirds of the world's cocaine. Most of that coca came from regions under the FARC's control, "just like in Afghanistan," Costa said.

"Recent major increases in drug supply from Afghanistan and Colombia may drive addiction rates up because of lower prices and higher purity of doses," he warned.

But the equal danger is that these groups will use their wealth to wreak havoc in areas where 1) the US has a vital and ongoing interest and 2) where fragile states are struggling mightily, and perhaps in vain given that they are outgunned and out financed by the narcos, are trying to make life more bearable for their peoples.

The independent sources of financing for the Taliban and the FARC, as well as the cartels now threatening the Mexican state and their encroaching on ever-greater swaths of Central America, are a significant national security crisis.

It is a crisis not just for the United States, but for each country that the cartels touch. Mexico is now paying a terrible price for confronting the cartels. Some 4,150 people have been killed, including 400 law enforcement and military personnel, in the past 18 months of confrontation.

There are some interesting indications that the FARC is, indeed in serious trouble, however. The report states that, while coca production is up, cocaine production is not because the coca plants are of poorer quality and not as well tended as in the past.

This means the people tending the fields are not as well protected by the FARC and cannot take the time to clean the fields and maintain the necessary facilities.

This is the type of war we will be fighting for decades. It is time we started to pay attention to it, and our options. Thinking has not changed in 20 years, so perhaps it is time to come up with new approaches.

Two Interesting Trends
Dangerous Times in Colombia and Iraq
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