Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Afghan Poppy PSYOP

The Associated Press ran a story on 30 March “US launches new fight against Afghan drug trade”,

Photo Source: Daily Mail, October 13, 2008


The latest approach to negating the flow of money to the Taliban and Al Qaida is much like the DEA’s similar campaigns in Latin America. In addition to attacking the supply of opium and driving up its price, the strategy will also concentrate on drug dealer money laundering.

At first glance this appears to be a win – win situation. Not only do you reduce the amount of drugs in circulation, but you strangle the money faucet to terrorist organizations. Success in Latin America is cited as the model outcome.

I’m not convinced it is as cut and dry as it appears. The crux of my discontent is my continuing crusade for a bottom up information engagement campaign. In this case the bottom of the pile is the farmer. The AP story begs the question of the farmer and concentrates on the Obama Administration’s strategy’s emphasizing the supply and money chains.

Long term problems with drugs will persist as long as there is big money to be paid for drugs and the culture and economic well being of the farmer are dependent on opium. The Department of Agriculture needs to be energized to develop a systematic crop replacement for opium. This replacement needs to be cognizant of the growing environment in Afghanistan and the world demand for whatever the replacement crop needs to be. In addition the crop should mirror growing seasons and be highly adaptive to the climate and soil conditions where poppies are currently cultivated.

The program should also include short term financial support and/or supply of food and other items that would be needed by the farmers while the new crop is growing and the system to harvest and market it matures.

From an information view point a classic marketing ‘teaser’ campaign where pictures of a future secure and prosperous life without the terrorists, Taliban or even unwelcome outsiders of any kind controlling the farmer’s destiny. The messages would stress the increased welfare of the farmers and the positives attributes of the new crop such as positive growing characteristics and a higher income potential.

Unless there is research needs to confirm that there is value to messages concerning the reduction of suffering by elimination of the drug trade, I would not employ these messages, not even in passing.

In short the combination of agricultural insight, micro-financing and tribally tuned information engagement is the right way to deal with the Afghan opium supply and a strategy that has a far better chance of long term success.

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