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Attacking Taliban Funding...

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    Attacking Taliban funding

    By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
    Posted : Saturday Oct 25, 2008 7:11:52 EDT

    U.S. forces have been given permission to step up counternarcotics operations in Afghanistan, paving the way for strikes against drug lords operating in areas patrolled by Marines since early this year.
    The agreement, announced Oct. 10 as NATO defense ministers met in Budapest, was praised by top U.S. military commanders. It gives the multinational International Security and Assistance Force permission to attack drug networks that funnel an estimated $100 million per year to Taliban insurgents and corrupt Afghan officials.
    “We now have the ability to move forward in an area that affects the security and stability of Afghanistan,” said Army Gen. John Craddock, NATO’s top commander in Europe. “It will allow us to reduce the funding and income to the insurgents — which will enhance the force protection of all ISAF and Afghan National Security Force personnel.”
    The agreement was struck with the stipulation that NATO troops must have the permission of their own governments before they participate in the attacks, allowing several European nations who balked at the idea to decline participation.
    Officials at the Pentagon and in Afghanistan said the agreement did not mean U.S. forces would begin destroying fields of opium poppies, a hot-button issue that many experts believe would alienate working-class Afghans who grow the plants in the economically depressed area.
    Instead, U.S. officials said it allows troops to attack drug networks providing money to the Taliban for weapons, improvised explosive devices and bomb-making materials.
    “We certainly welcome NATO’s position to allow us to target narco-traffickers,” said Maj. John Redfield, a U.S. Forces spokesman in Afghanistan. “We view it as a force protection issue, and we know there’s a linkage between the money from the drugs and the weapons and bomb-making materials used by terrorists.”
    The decision comes as the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit wraps up months of fighting with Taliban insurgents while wading through poppy fields in volatile Helmand province. In April, the MEU launched a successful assault there on the town of Garmser, a Taliban stronghold, but Marines found themselves bogged down far longer than expected.
    Maj. Kelly Frushour, a MEU spokeswoman, declined to comment on the agreement, but said the 2,200-strong unit has not participated in the eradication of poppy fields.
    A Pentagon spokesman said it was too early to tell how the decision would affect units patrolling poppy-rich areas, but acknowledged targeting drug networks would likely occur in southern Afghanistan, where both the MEU and 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, have been deployed this year. The MEU has begun to cycle out of Afghanistan, Frushour said, with the first wave of Marines arriving at Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan on Oct. 13.
    Defense Secretary Robert Gates and U.S. commanders have called for an increased focus on poppies for at least a year. He advocated the policy shift to NATO defense ministers before the agreement was made, officials said, noting it could diminish a revenue stream for the Taliban.
    “The secretary said … we’re not talking about crop eradication or counternarcotics policy — that has to be an Afghan responsibility,” said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Wright. “This is about going after these drug networks that are funding the Taliban.”
    Afghanistan set a record in 2007, producing more than 477,000 acres of opium-producing poppies and accounting for 93 percent of the world’s poppy product, according to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime. In 2008, production is down about 19 percent, U.N. officials said in August, but the supply still far outweighs worldwide demand.

    ...And shephards we shall be. For thee my lord, for thee. Power hath descended forth from thy hand. That our feet may swiftly carry out thy command. So we shall flow a river forth to thee. And teeming with souls shall it ever be. E Nomini Patri, E Fili, E Spiritu Sancti.

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