by Eric L. Andrews (hubpages) (Research & Opinion piece)
Like a majority of Americans following the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01, I was swept up by the crimson tide of retaliatory bloodlust. Some shadowy adversery had swooped in, much like a predatory bird, and several of our financial and military icons lay in ruin. Over 3,000 of our citizens were gone forever. We needed a face to match with the evil deed. Then, that new enemy would experience the fire and brimstone judgement brought forth by the mightiest military machine the world had ever known.
Within days that cowardly foe had a name; Al Qaeda. They were Islamic extremists without borders, bent upon the destruction of our nation, its people, and our very way of life. The terrorist cell, which used airplanes as missiles, was being harbored by the Taliban in the backward country of Afghanistan. They were spearheaded by our new public enemy number one, Osama bin Laden. President Bush offered the Afghan government an ultimatum; give up those responsible for the U.S. attacks or suffer the biblical consequences. The Taliban refused.
In December of 2001 our might, in the form of air power, rained down upon the over-matched Taliban positions under the moniker Operation Enduring Freedom. In a matter of weeks Kabul, the capital city, fell and the enemy troops scattered into the mountains. Americans, including myself, puffed out our chests in triumph. Afghanistan was in U.S. control. Unfortunately, students of history pointed out that no invading power has ever been able to hold this hellish region of earth.
Flash-forward to April of 2012. American military deaths have topped 1,800. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been allocated to the operation over a 10+ year period and our current uniformed personnel figure ‘in country’ tops 100,000. President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have announced troop drawdown plans which should bring 33,000 of our brave men and women home by the end of 2012. The mission is slated to end at the conclusion of 2014, with all coalition forces gone. But no one seems to be able to define our objectives in Afghanistan at this point. Why are we still there at all?
Numerous military and Middle Eastern experts alike predict a power vacuumin Afghanistan after our departure, and a civil war probably resulting in the Taliban regaining control. Karzai’s government seems weak and corrupt, and the Afghan army and police force incapable of holding the diverse and difficult terrain. Tribal warlords, financed by the enormous opium trade, seem eager to ally themselves with whatever authority that allows them to operate autonomously.
Our military is exhausted, over-taxed and somewhat demoralized by the ‘mission’. Many are on their third or fourth tours, or more, and the end game is sketchy and hazy at best. What is the ultimate goal? Again, why are we still losing young people in Afghanistan and why do we have to subject so many to circumstances that physically and emotionally scar them for life?
I mentioned opium a few paragraphs above. Production of that drug, which permeates from the Afghan valleys and mountains, has increased a staggering 3,100% in 10 years, from 185 tons in 2001 to a whopping 5,800 tons during 2011! In the past year alone, that illegal drug’s cultivation and manufacturing from the ubiquitous Afghan poppy fields has skyrocketed 61%. We will investigate more details of this illicet trade going on right under the noses of U.S. authorities.
Precious minerals have recently been discovered under Afghanistan’s terrain, including lithium, gold, iron, copper and cobalt. Could this be one of the reasons why young Americans are being placed in harm’s way? Looking at another possible answer, as far back as the late 1990’s negotiations were underway to build an extensive oil and natural gas pipeline across the Afghan countryside, bringing those fossil fuels from the former Soviet republics up north and all the way down to Far East Asian, emerging market destinations. The deal fell through and we will explore that story more later. Miracuously, this multi-billion dollar project has been revisited just within the past few years and plans drawn up.
So once again, are we taxpayers footing the bill, through our military’s blood sacrifice, to lay the groundwork for global, wealthy corporations to swoop into Afghanistan and pilfer its resources? Are there more sinister forces at work here even beyond that twisted scenario? Let’s take a look at some of the facts surrounding these issues.
Afghanistan’s Cash Crop Times Two
The opium-rich poppy, known scientifically as Papaver somniferun, grows very well in the soil and climate of Afghanistan. Once harvested, the plants are processed into an opium latex resin which is subsequently packaged and marketed as a gum. These tar-like products contain the naturally-occuring pharmaceutical alkaloids morphine, codeine and thebaine.
Morphine can be utilized as is, or chemically processed into heroin. Codeine is a moderate analgesic and thebaine must be altered for human consumption. This latter chemical is sought after by pharmaceutical companies, as it is altered to form the ‘safe’ oxycodone and hydrocodone molecules. These components then provide the potent, pain-relieiving affects of the ubiquitous pain pills marketed under such brands as Oxycontin and Vicodin.
Prescription pain medication use, abuse and addiction has skyrocketed in America during the past 10 years. Read my hub entitled America’s Prescription Drug Epidemic. Heroin use is high in several countries including the U.S., U.K., Iran and Russia. As an example, over 12 tons of pure Afghan heroin enters Russia each year. Addiction to the same is becoming more and more frequent in the four mentioned nations.
Prior to 2001, the Taliban had deemed poppy growing and the sale of opium ‘un-Islamic’. Their theocratic government had irradicated 99% of the drug’s production within Taliban-controlled regions. Oddly enough, the Northern Alliance warlords, whom we supported as the Mujahideen against the occupying Soviets during the 1980’s, continued to deal in the banned opium trade. The Northern Alliance militias fought alongside our embedded CIA operatives and special forces during the U.S.-coordinated, December 2001 invasion, and later as we ousted the Taliban from power.
To make matters worse, if that is possible, new evidence indicates that the anti-U.S., Iran-supported terrorist group Hezbollah may be assisting Afghans in moving opium; especially the Taliban. Hezbollah may further be using Venezuela as a staging site to move opium and heroin into the Western Hemisphere. They seem to have partnered with the Mexican drug cartels, such as the Sinaloans, La Familia and the Zetas.
The cartels obtain cheap heroin to sell in the U.S., and weapons and bomb-making expertise from their Arab partners. The quid pro quo results when Hezbollah is shown how to illegally enter the U.S. and infiltrate our cities, and they make cash from the drugs and armament sales to the Mexicans. Remember, Hezbollah supplied training and materials for Iraqi insurgents to build IED’s which killed and maimed our troops. They allegedly have done the same in the Afghan conflict. Read my hub entitled Hezbollah in America: Ready to Strike about this Lebanon-based terrorist organization.
Now let’s move on to Afghanistan’s other leading cash crop; cannabis. The Kush marijuana plant produces a high, potent variety of cannabis and is much sought-after in the world, especially whetting the appetite of users in Europe. Guess what? According to a U.N. study conducted back in 2010, Afghanistan now carries another drug distinction of being named the world’s #1 cannabis supplier.
The U.N.’s report estimates that Afghan marijuana growers shipped between 1,500 and 3,500 tons of the product to eager buyers, estimated to be worth upwards to $94 million to their economy. Most comes from the Hindu Kush region, but it appears that 17 of the nation’s 34 provinces offer weed as an export. So, our troops are oblivious to this huge cash crop and the same for the poppy fields ubiquitous all over the country? Right. I’ve got some real estate in Afghanistan, right on the ocean, that I’d like to sell you.
My next question relates to the legal drug trade and prescription painkillerssuch as Vicodin and Oxycontin. I already pointed out that one of the poppy’s components, thebaine, is converted chemically to oxycodone and hydrocodone for the pharmaceutical companies. Actually, India is the major licensed country which performs this process and they allow some legal poppy farming within their borders.
The active ingredients mentioned above are then shipped from India to drug company facilities in China, and elsewhere, for final processing into pill form. The demand for prescription pain meds has jumped significantly and the manufacturers make billions of dollars. What if some of the Afghan thebaine is covertly being imported into India (through Pakistan or Iran?), then to China as a part of this pill-making process? Then the pain pills ultimately make it into the medicine cabinets of Americans. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit.
In summary, our troops are being deployed, and some dying, to secure a country, Afghanistan, where illegal opium production has increased by over 3,000% since 2001. We taxpayers are footing the financial obligation, while our brave soldiers pay in blood and body parts. U.S. government officials, as well as those in President Karzai’s regime, have to know this is taking place. To add insult to injury, our troops are disallowed from consuming alcohol in the country in accordance with respecting Muslim laws there. Then they walk around on patrol during the day and pass opium poppy field after field. That’s hypocracy.
The Taliban, whom we pushed from power after 9/11, is making money off the opium trade. They then use the money to purchase weapons in order to attack our soldiers. Hezbollah, our enemy, is also benefitting from the opium business originating in Afghanistan. They support the Taliban insurgents, and are also tucked within our own borders, waiting to pounce. Hezbollah also aids the ultra-violent Mexican drug cartels, who have taken the lives of numerous Americans.
The Afghan pharmaceutical precursors are utilized to manufacture heroin, which ends up in the veins of Americans and the British, among others. Perhaps, and this is a theory, Afghan-supplied thedaine is ending up in Oxycontin and Vicodin pills sold in U.S. pharmacies, or in the shadowy alleys of our cities. In other words, this activity is fueling one aspect of corporate industry. Let’s look at some other areas that may tie Afghanistan to the global business empire.
Fossil Fueling our Enemies
Back in 1997, a Taliban delegation flew to Texas, whose Governer was future President George W. Bush, to meet with representatives of the Unocal oil company. The negotiations centered around Unocal’s over $1 billion proposal to build an oil and natural gas pipeline across Afghanistan which would carry those fuels from the former Soviet republics of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to markets in Pakistan. Bridas, an Argentine energy corporation, was the other bidder for the project. Reportedly, current Afghan President Harmid Karzai was an advisor to Unocal as they investigated the cost-effectiveness of this endeaver.[5,10]
In 1998, the Taliban announced they were ready to announce their decision. Unocal got cold feet, and funding fell through due to the Islamist extremist Afghan government not being recognized around the world, including at the U.N., as the ‘official’ head of that country. Unocal couldn’t obtain funding for their project, and also was concerned about the instability in Afghanistan; as fighting still pocketed the landscape between the Northern Alliance tribes and the Taliban. Unocal pulled out of the bidding process and the pipeline ultimately fell through.
Today, after 10+ years of bloodshed, there are new sheriffs in town regarding the oil and gas construction plans. The communist Chinese are nearing a deal with Kabul’s Karzai officials to build the aforementioned pipeline, from the republics near the oil-rich Caspian Sea, across Afghanistan and on to Pakistan and then to China.
In the meantime, the Iranians and Pakistanis have become good friends and strange bedfellows. Pakistan’s President, Asif Ali Zardari, has visited with Tehran’s government several times recently and the two unlikely Muslim partners have begun building an oil and natural gas pipeline connecting their two countries and traversing Afghanistan in the process.
Named the Pipelineistan or ‘peace pipeline’, construction on the Iranian portion has nearly reached the Pakistani border, and is scheduled for completion by the end of 2012. In the interim, the two collaborative nations, and Presidents Zardari and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have become very close with Afghanistan’s leader Karzai. At the same time, all three are pushing away from their relationships with the U.S. more and more. In Tehran’s case, things couldn’t get much worse short of an armed confrontation.
So, the bottom line is that America has spent billions of dollars and sacrificed the blood, sanity and time of our troops with the end result being our enemies, China and Iran, are benefitting financially from our expenditures. Gotta make ya’ proud, huh? There’s more to the story and that is coming up in the next section. China has more Afghan business up their sleeve.
Precious Minerals Bought with Blood
You’ve all heard the phrase ‘blood diamond’, right? Afghanistan’s subsoil features its own versions of that famous mineral; purchased with our soldiers’ blood. According to recent studies done by geologists under the direction of Pentagon officials, Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush region holds uranium, copper, lithium, gold and iron ore veins worth $1 to $3 trillion. Yes, that’s with a ‘t’. The Soviets knew about these mineral riches back in the 1970’s; maybe that is the main reason they invaded Afghanistan in 1979.
According to an internal Pentagon memo, obtained by the New York Times in 2010, the country could become the ‘Saudi Arabia of Lithium’. That industrial metal is used in cell phones, portable computers and electric car batteries, for example, and obviously demand for that fairly rare commodity is on the rise. The communique further states that Afghanistan ‘could become one of the most important mining centers in the world’.
Awesome. Some U.S. corporations can swoop in, set up mining agreements and get started, creating numerous jobs for American engineers, equipment operators, etc. Not so fast. We are on the outside, looking in, at this juncture. A pocket containing the world’s largest iron ore deposits happens to be located in the Hajigak area of Afghanistan. It contains an estimated 1.8 billion tons of ore. Bidding on the mining project commenced in August of 2011. On November 28th last year, it was announced by Karzai’s government that a conglomerate of seven Indian mining companies, led by the Steel Authority of India, had won most of the rights. The crumbs went to a Canadian firm called Kilo Goldmines.
China’s Metallurigical Corporation snatched the contracts to extract huge copper deposits in Logar, southwest of Kabul, in 2008 for $3.4 billion. They outbid American companies, according to the Afghan Minister of Mines, by agreeing to construct a $6 billion railway that will eventually connect northern Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan with China. The project will also create thousands of jobs and provide other benefits to the communities impacted. Strike two for us.
Reportedly, aggressive bidding wars are underway for rights to the lithium, uranium and gold deposits. The leaders in this negotiation process are India, China and Russia. I find it amusing, or maybe it is more disheartening, that the two colonial powerhouses in the United States and Britain (U.K.), both of whom fought wars to conquer Afghanistan during the past 200 years, may get squat out of the deal. In the meantime, our enemies such as Iran, China and Russia look to profit handsomely from business arrangements and contracts involving the Afghan government.
From the 1950’s through the ’80’s we Americans used our influence and power to manipulate third world countries ad nauseum. Our corporations paired up with the CIA and used military might to dictate the political and economic affairs from Southeast Asia, to Africa, to the Middle East and South America. The bullies aren’t so tough anymore and our adversaries smell blood in the water.
In this article, I hope that I’ve convinced you that our initial goal for U.S.-dictated democracy in Afghanistan is now a pipe dream. Their government is getting accustomed to crony capitalism now, and that probably was one aspect of Afghanistan that they did import from America. What is our objective now in that war-ravaged nation? Why must we spend more money and lose more troops over there? It’s apparent they don’t even want us there any longer.
Unlike in the past, our corporations won’t even be the ones to push in after the smoke clears to scoop up the ravaged country’s resources and bucks. We can’t even do that right anymore. Why is the Pentagon and White House allowing our troops to ignore the enormous and growing opium business? Let’s get our military out now, get them some rest and let the Afghans finance their own infrastructure. It looks like they will have plenty of opportunities to do so.
One last question. Why is our media silent on the troop casualty figures in Afghanistan and the lack of a mission focus? Is it because we are embroiled in an election year and they don’t want portray certain candidates in a negative light? We had daily body counts blasted at us from the Iraq war by our media outlets while Bush was in the White House. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a fan of his foreign policy either. Where’s the coverage as our brave men and women die?
Our elected officials are using our military members as pawns on their geo-political world chess board. Only difference now, versus the past, is that our pawns may become kings and flip the whole game over.
1. http://icasualties.org; Operation Enduring Freedom/Afghanistan; Coalition Military Fatalities by Year
2. www.huffingtonpost.com; Withdrawal from Afghanistan: 40,000 Troops to Leave War Zone by End of 2012 by Deb Riechmann and Slobodan Lekic dated November 29, 2011
3. www.dailymail.co.uk; Afghan Drug War Debacle: Blair said Smashing Opium Trade was a Major Reason to Invade but 10 Years on Heroin Production is up From 185 Tons a Year to 5,800 by David Williams dated February 17, 2012
4. www.nytimes.com; U.S. Identifies Vast Mineral Riches in Afghanistan by James Risen dated June 13, 2010
5. Book Ghost Wars by Steve Croll published in 2005
6. www.probertencyclopaedia.com; Research Results for ‘Thebaine’ and ‘Opium’
7. www.talkingdrugs.org; Hezbollah’s Suspected Drug Trade Links by Christopher Kirkland dated April 7, 2011
8. www.indianexpress.com; Afghanistan, Iran, Pak Fight Opium Smuggling by Associated Press posted November 28, 2011
9. www.nytimes.com; U.N. Reports That Taliban is Stockpiling Opium by Kirk Kraeutler dated November 28, 2008
10. http://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com; Origins of Afghan War
11. http://www.aljazeera.com; The Allure of Afghanistan by Pepe Escobar dated July 29, 2011
12. www.mining.com; Indian Consortium and Canadian Firm Awarded Big Afghan Iron Ore Contract by Andrew Topf dated November 28, 2011
13. www.reuters.com; Afghanistan Now World’s Top Cannabis Source: U.N. by Jonathon Burch dated March 31, 2010