With an increased focus on breaking the links between insurgents and the narcotics industry in Afghanistan, the US has announced, during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing held earlier this month, its new initiatives to combat this threat. The most significant and controversial (to some NATO partners like Germany) shift in strategy is to use military firepower to target “nexus targets,” or narcotics-linked insurgent commanders and safe houses. Fifty such nexus commanders have been added to the kill or capture list maintained by ISAF units in Afghanistan, finally making drug traffickers with tactical links to insurgents a top priority. US officials have also agreed to increase the number of interdiction operations while toning down forced eradication campaigns. The US has also established a financial analysis cell (CIA-Department of Justice/Treasury) that will monitor, target, and disrupt the illicit money flows as part of the new plan.
The DEA also plans to enhance its presence in Afghanistan. Last year only 13 DEA personnel maintained permanent offices in Afghanistan; by December the number will reach a total of 81 DEA personnel with a fixed presence in-country. Meanwhile, the US Air Force has agreed to maintain the current Afghanistan Intelligence Fusion Center, a counternarcotics intelligence hub based out of Kabul since 2004.
According to a recent report filed by Walter Pincus, the Air Force confirmed in a 2007 assessment that “data from the Kabul-based fusion center got credit for aiding in the seizure of more than 45 tons of drugs with an estimated street value of $1 billion and aid that helped the drug arrest rate by 75 percent.” Since Operation Diesel, a successful four-day operation that smashed a major drug refinement operation in Helmand’s Sangin district in February, NATO and Afghan forces have targeted and attacked dozens of heroin and opium processing workshops in Taliban-held areas, an indication that the Coalition is finally recognizing that the narcotics problem won’t simply go away on its own.
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