FOB SHAMULZAI, Afghanistan (May 29, 2012) -- Afghan National Army and 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Soldiers, teamed up earlier this month to locate and destroy several acres of opium poppy fields.
Opium poppy is a species of plant which is the source of many narcotics, including morphine, and its derivative heroin. Opium poppy has been used by the insurgency to finance their attacks on Afghan National Security Forces, also known as ANSF, and International Security Assistance Forces, or ISAF, for more than a decade.
The discovery by Afghan National Security Forces, and subsequent destruction, of such a significant amount of opium poppy is noteworthy because of the message it sends to the insurgents who facilitate its growth.
"It sends a message that ANSF and Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, or GIROA, are going to target the Taliban's financing of their insurgency," said Capt. Joe Mickley, a company commander with the 20th Infantry.
The troops who destroyed the poppy fields were from 1st Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 205th Corps based out of Forward Operating Base Shamulzai, in Zabul province, south-central Afghanistan.
Over the last decade opium poppy has proven to be the fastest growing crop for Afghan farmers, but not for the usual reasons, according to one unnamed source. He said the illicit drug trade has been a premier crop in Afghanistan because of pressure from the Taliban who pushes villagers to grow the poppies for profit and funding of the insurgency.
Mickley said the Afghan farmers aren't given any options. They're just told to grow them, he said.
While it's normally against Islamic doctrine for Afghans to grow opium poppies for drug production, the insurgency turns a blind eye to it since it yields a significant amount of money for them on the illicit drug market; a small percentage of which is usually given to the farmers.
"That's why I always do my patrols in the villages and teach them that the way of Islam is to be against drugs," said Capt. Sayed Baba Mansory, ANA officer-in-charge of the Shamulzai detachment. "There are other crops, high-demand crops, which villagers could grow. Grapes, used to make raisins, are a huge commodity in southern Afghanistan. Wheat is another crop that does well in this part of the country."
"The thing is drugs equal money, so the insurgency pays the villagers to grow poppies," said Mickley. He said the insurgency prevents villagers from growing traditional, high-demand crops from which they could make a living to support their families. With reluctance, Afghan farmers grow the opium poppy.
The solution, Mansory explains, is for more involvement from the government in Kabul. Their commitment to the villages could potentially lure farmers into the bazaar where they could sell their conventional crops for a profit.
Ultimately, though, growing more conventional crops is what will be needed for the future of Afghanistan. Efforts are underway to teach Afghan farmers that growing such crops are not only good for them and their families, it's good for all of Afghanistan, added Mansory.
"Really it all relates to enabling the government out there to take hold and encourage the villagers to come in and participate with the government," said Mickley.