TBR News February 22, 2016

Feb 22 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. February 22, 2016: “The Turks are not  noted for being compassionate or decent people. In 1916, with the aid of the Kurds, they massacred hundred of thousands of Christian Armenian men, women and children. This was the real Holocaust of the 20th century but one seldom spoken of because Turkey, for money, became an American ally in their silent war with Russia. But now that the stolen Syrian oil  is no longer shipped to Turkey (who kept some of it and shipped the rest, for money, to the US via Israel) and the CIA has other bases from which to spy on Russia, Turkey is on a slippery slope. Her former Kurdish allies are demanding independence from Turkish rule and the Turks, having alienated Russia, are now doing to thieir Kurdish population what they did to the Armenians. Slight wonder that the US is backing away from supporting Turkey. Besides, Turkey has no oil or gas so, like a Saudi Arabia that is running out of oil, Turkey cannot rely on the United States to support her murderous activities.”

Conversations with the Crow

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal , Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment. Three months before, July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md. After Corson’s death, Trento and his Washington lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever

After Crowley’s death and Trento’s raid on the Crowley files, huge gaps were subsequently discovered by horrified CIA officials and when Crowley’s friends mentioned Gregory Douglas, it was discovered that Crowley’s son had shipped two large boxes to Douglas. No one knew their contents but because Douglas was viewed as an uncontrollable loose cannon who had done considerable damage to the CIA’s reputation by his on-going publication of the history of Gestapo-Mueller, they bent every effort both to identify the missing files and make some effort to retrieve them before Douglas made any use of them.

Douglas had been in close contact with Crowley and had long phone conversatins with him. He found this so interesting and informative that he taped  and later transcribed them.

These conversations have been published in a book: ‘Conversations with the Crow” and this is an excerpt.



Conversation No. 49

Date: Thursday, November 28, 1996

Commenced: 8:45 AM CST

Concluded: 9:22 AM CST

`RTC: How are you today, Gregory?

GD: Been up since six working on the next Mueller book. Working on the concentration camp business.

RTC: A sensitive and profitable subject. For the same people. My God, what a money-maker that one is!

GD: Tell me about it. An established writer like Irving could never approach it. If he did, the Jews would go for his throat. Or his back more like it. Did you have many dealings with them?

RTC: As individuals or as professional agents?

GD: Either.

RTC: I have to tell you, Gregory, that I do not like Jews very much and I do not trust any of them. I know a few as individuals and some as agents. Jim loved them and spent half his time sucking up to the Mossad creeps. It bothered me because they were using him, but Jim loved flattery and ate it up. I don’t and I’m an Irish Catholic boy from Chicago. Jim was part Mexican and maybe that was part of it. Anyway, with Jews, it’s take, take and never give. You can’t trust any of them to the corner for a pound of soft soap.

GD: I don’t get involved but I have had bad experiences with them. Always watch your back around them has been my experience.

RTC: I have a report for you made for the UN in ’48 listing all their crimes against the Palestinian. The abused child becomes the abusing parent. My God, those filthy Polacks did terrible, vicious things to the Arabs. Murdered them, poisoned their farm wells, killed their animals and finally slaughtered whole villages of them, women and children. The Jews claim they own the Holy Land but these are Polack Jews and had nothing to do with Palestine. The Russian Jews are the same breed and Stalin, who really hated Jews, used them to butcher Russian Christians whom they hated. And then Josef planned to kill off all the Jews in Moscow.

GD: What about that?

RTC: Round them all up, put them in boxcars and ship them off to Siberia in mid-winter. He planned to slaughter all of them. And after all the filthy work they did for him, too! An ungrateful but realistic man.

GD: Why was this turn-about? He loved Jews, didn’t he?

RTC: No, he did not. Josef was far-sighted and knew, and said, that Jews had no loyalty to anyone except themselves. They hate all other people and feel that anything they do to them is justified. They claim centuries of persecution as their excuse.

GD: Yes, isn’t it odd that over thousands of years, everyone has persecuted the poor Jews. One wonders why.

RTC: Why? They burrow into the machinery of the state and the banking system and eventually take it over. And then, always, the locals get after them and either set them on fire or drive them out of their area or country. This has been going on for many centuries. One could say that the Jews of the world have been very unlucky or people know what they’re doing when they pile up wood for the burning pyres or set up camps.

GD: The stories about gassed millions is hysterically funny. Puts me in mind of the stories about the Easter Bunny or the Second Coming. Useful lies for children on one hand and a means to get money out of the suckers who actually believe the silliness about the Rapture, the Battle of Armageddon and other idiotic legends. Barnum was right.

RTC: Yes, he was. And I once looked into the camp story just because I could. There is much on this issue at the National Archives but most people can’t see it.

GD: Why not?

RTC: The Jews don’t want you see this. It would destroy the myth of vast gas chambers and soap factories. My God, Gregory, the Jews make vast sums of money off these made-up stories. I can just hear some raddled Jewess moaning in a furniture store about how her whole family was gassed and can she get 50% off on that chair? Oh yes, I know all about such creatures. And now, the Mossad wants us to hunt down people they don’t like, or send them confidential files on people they want to blackmail. They robbed and murdered the Arabs, so they have to hate them to justify their filthy behavior. The Arabs outnumber them 20 to 1 but the Israelis have us behind them so they literally can get away with murder. And how do they have our support? By working their way into the system, by owning most of the media, by bribery and blackmail, by political pressure. I could go on for days but I just ate breakfast and I don’t want to vomit onto my lap.

GD: I knew the Polish Jews in Munich after the war. Jesus H. Christ, Robert, I have never seen such really terrible people in my life. They were all up on the Muehl Strasse and going there to buy cheap butter for my friends was quite an experience. It was like tiptoeing into a den of circling hyenas. I was always neutral as far as Jews were concerned, but my experiences there radically altered my views. They were DPs. Displaced Persons. Couldn’t go back to Poland where the locals would have shoved them into barns and set them on fire. The Germans got blamed for much of that, but it was the local Poles who snuffed all the Jews in the neighborhood once their central government fell apart in ’39. A friend of mine was a Major in the thirty seventh infantry and he said the Poles would round up all the Jews and barbecue them. Said some of the villages smelt like a badly-vented crematorium. And of course they got the blame for it. Well, they lost so they can expect this. I once bought a German steel helmet at a flea market in Germany and I was carrying it down the street under my arm and some old hag came up behind me, screeching like a wet pea hen. There was no one around so I bashed her on the head with the pot until she shut up. Had to wash the helmet off later. It looked like pink oatmeal on part of it.

RTC: Bravo. I suppose she was dead, Gregory?

GD: I didn’t stop to examine her but she had certainly shut up.

RTC: I suppose she was a Jew.

GD: I didn’t care who she was. She could have been anyone and I would have shut her up regardless.

RTC: You are certainly not a nice person at times.

GD: Oh, I love that, Robert. If I were in your house for dinner, I assure you my manners would be impeccable. But we digress. Can we find out more about that business you people had with the French getting us into Vietnam?

ERTC: I wrote on that, Gregory. I ought to send you my manuscript some day. I can’t publish it because I signed a pledge to never publish without permission and I am sure it would never be given. I know all about that slaughterhouse, believe me. A nation steeped in blood. Terrible business. Wars for nothing and when Kennedy tried to get out, that was one of the reasons he got killed. Too much money to be made in a war. It ruined Johnson. No chance of getting reelected. McNamara thought he could apply business norms to a military business and he went as well. Probably be made the head of a think tank. My God, what a misnomer. ‘Think tank’ my ass. Bunch of loud-mouthed idiots running around babbling as if anyone cared what they thought about unimportant things. “I think…” is one of the worst openings for any kind of a conversation. Run into these congenital assholes at any Beltway social function and especially in the CIA circles. I say, who gives a damn what you think?

GD: I’ve been to Beltway functions, Robert. My God, if we could somehow trap all the hot air these methane monsters create, we could heat New York for ten years. Don’t light any matches and breathe very shortly but the gas is tremendous. “I think…?” I doubt it. Most of these self-important cow anuses should join hands and jump off the Key Bridge in the middle of winter. Right through the ice and then blessed silence. Downriver, however, all the marine life dies a terrible death.

RTC: (Laughter) Ah, well, it won’t happen. One day a Jew will sit in the Oval Office and on that day, we will drop atom bombs on anyone Tel Aviv doesn’t like.

GD: Where is Genghis Kahn now that we need him?

RTC: Lee Harvey Oswald would be more to the point.

(Concluded at 9:22 Am CST)

Turkey wants Russian tourists back amid ‘sudden’ industry decline – PM

February 22, 2016


Turkish PM Ahmed Davutoglu said the government expects Russian tourists to come despite tensions between Ankara and Moscow, as shrinkage in the sector was “unexpected.” Russia earlier urged tourists not to visit Turkey, citing security concerns.

Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Davutoglu announced an action plan to provide support for the tourism industry, including an $87-million government grant and setting up a facility to allow travel firms to restructure their debts.

We believe Russian tourists will start coming back to Turkey,” he was quoted as saying by the Daily Sabah, an English-language newspaper published in Turkey. Davutoglu added the current political tensions between Ankara and Moscow should not impact Russian “guests” who visit the country.

The government did not expect any shrinkage in tourism stemming from this issue, he added.

Russia imposed economic sanctions on Turkey after an Su-24 bomber was shot down by Turkish F-16s over Syria. In November 2015, the Russian government banned all charter flights to Turkey.

Russia’s travel industry watchdog Rosturism recommended all national agencies to stop selling tours to Turkey, citing security concerns. Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) militants were planning to take Russian tourists hostage and use them as human shields, the agency said.In January 2016, Russia introduced a visa regime for Turkish nationals, while Turkey’s top resorts were left practically empty due to a dramatic decline in the number of Russian tourists.

Turkey has been the Russian people’s number 1 foreign tourist destination for many years. Its southern beach towns of Antalya and Alanya, favored by Russians, provided an all-inclusive service at affordable prices.

Tourism funds more than half of Turkey’s current account deficit, which is seen as one of the country’s biggest economic weaknesses.

TUI, the world’s largest tour operator, this month reported a 40-percent fall in summer holiday bookings to Turkey, with customers deterred by security concerns, according to the Financial Times.

Turkey’s tourism industry also expects to see losses in other markets this year, after an IS suicide bomb attack in Istanbul’s top tourist spot, Sultanahmet, which killed 11 German tourists on January 12. This has resulted in decreasing numbers of Germans visiting Antalya, the Hurriyet Daily reported.

Apple v FBI: engineers would be ashamed to break their own encryption

Among the secretive, almost religious community of expert security engineers, breaking your own encryption is seen as shameful and unholy

February 22, 2016

by Nellie Bowles

The Guardian

Apple’s security team are a tight-knit tribe of hackers driven by a strict belief system and with almost unparalleled power around the company’s Cupertino campus, according to a former employee who worked closely with them.

They’ll come into your office and just sit down with you and argue until they win, but they will always win,” said the engineer, who worked in a different department at Apple and who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They dressed the same as us, they’re just as fun to talk to, but they’re fierce. They know how much responsibility they have and how vulnerable it could be.”

Software engineers, especially those who work the deep foundational security code, like to see themselves as being driven by craft and art more than money. To break that security code – as the FBI has ordered Apple engineers to do this week – would not be just politically and commercially difficult for Apple but emotionally hard for engineers, according to former employees, a psychologist who specializes in engineer issues and leaders in the engineering community.

Engineers have a strong, almost religious belief system around their work. In this way of thinking, the FBI’s request is not just shortsighted and worldly but immoral.

It’s like asking Superman to engineer his own kryptonite,” said Chris Noor, a therapist and software engineer who counsels technologists. “I can only imagine how hard it is to be those engineers today.” Noor said if the Apple engineers had to bow to FBI pressure and break their own encryption, it would be a personal shame they would take “to the grave”.

If push came to shove, and those engineers were asked to do something that’s so contrary to their values, they’d go to their graves so sad they’d done that. It would be a monumental thing for them emotionally,” he said. “Most engineers realize there’s compromise in the world, but it is very hard for them.”

Andy Aude, a former Apple engineer and current Stanford computer science student, described an unwritten set of ethics in his community. “In the software world there’s so little formal education, there’s no one rigid school of thought, but there are these nebulous shared values that emerge through practice,” Aude said.

This belief system often means engineers will take lower paying jobs in return for the prestige of working for a perfectionist culture. One explained it as the reason Square gets better engineers than LinkedIn, even in the face of higher offers.

The best engineers in San Francsico, the really good ones, they don’t care how much they make, all they care about is what they make and how well it performs,” said Steve Derico, who hosts an engineer meetup with 3,000 attendees. “That’s what drives their decision making – legacy and craftsman development.”

It can be almost obsessive: “Developing is like golf, once you do it you just want to get a little bit better every time,” he said.

Engineers who code especially beautifully become famous in their communities, and the works are seen as almost religious, according to several developers.

This sort of encryption is seen as sort of a holy, sacred thing,” said Ryan Orbuch, a serial entrepreneur who won Apple’s Design Award in 2013. “People worship this kind of crypto.”

Orbuch said when the FBI asks Apple engineers to break something, completing the act goes against that almost religious way of thinking.

When you do InfoSec and your job is security, your moral view of the world is based on the fact that you can provide security through math, security that’s complete and secure not just because of any social contract but because literally the math works,” Orbuch said. “When someone comes and says I want you to break this for me, it goes against everything we believe in.”

Israel dramatically ramping up demolitions of Palestinian homes in West Bank

Israel has razed over 200 EU-funded buildings in the West Bank in the past two years. This year alone around 480 people, including 220 children, have been left homeless.

February 21, 2016

by Amira Hass


Since the beginning of this year, especially in early February, Israel’s Civil Administration has significantly increased the pace of Palestinian home demolitions in the West Bank’s Area C under full Israeli control (about 60 percent of the West Bank).

It has demolished 293 homes in just six weeks, compared with 447 for all of 2015. The average has surged to 49 from nine per week. The demolitions have left more than 480 Palestinians, including 220 children, homeless.

At the settlement subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, headed by Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi), MKs have openly pressured Civil Administration officials to step up the demolitions and evict Palestinian communities from Area C.

Over the years, they have accused the administration of being powerless or deliberate foot dragging. They have especially complained about European aid to Palestinian construction in these areas, and demanded that the authorities destroy buildings that international organizations, particularly European ones, have donated.

At a closed session of the subcommittee in August, the head of the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories, Gen. Yoav Mordechai, said he had discussed the matter in April in a meeting attended by Justice Ministry and National Security Council representatives, among others. That month, COGAT issued rules for addressing illegal construction involving international organizations.

Mordechai said all illegal building involving European funding would receive an immediate order, and he would immediately send a letter to the embassy of the donor country protesting “that they are building illegally,” according to minutes of the meeting obtained by Haaretz.

Mordechai said he had held 30 meetings with international representatives between January and August 2015 in which the issue had arisen.

In the last meeting with the EU ambassador, [I told him] that there are statutory processes and we would be happy to approve them in the planning process,” Mordechai said. “Thus legally sanctioned steps would be taken against any illegal construction and aid done without coordination, and that’s how we’re operating.”

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israel has destroyed almost as many European-funded structures in 2016 (104) as it did in all of 2015 (108). The buildings are mostly for hygiene, agriculture, solar panels and prefab living quarters. One European organization calculated that the demolition rate had increased 230 percent over last year, and 689 percent for European-funded buildings.

On February 9 alone, the Civil Administration demolished no fewer than 15 European-funded structures in Khirbet Tana, including two tents where 13 people lived, three outhouses, two water tanks and eight sheep pens.

The Israeli force raided the village at around 8 A.M. and left at around noon. It included two yellow bulldozers, one white Civil Administration truck and military jeeps. A female soldier guarded the women and children. Another soldier watched the men while 15 Civil Administration employees emptied the structures of their contents before the demolitions.

Khirbet Tana is a village of cave-dwelling shepherds and farmers originally from the village of Beit Furik southeast of Nablus. Ancient wells, well-kept residential caves and a stone mosque with a curved ceiling show that this settlement, located near two springs and spreading out across the slopes of several hills with wadis in between, has existed for over 100 years.

My mother gave birth to me in this cave in 1936,” Radwan Qassem told Haaretz. “I’m older than the State of Israel, and it does not allow me to live here.”

I’ll come back and demolish’

In 2011, the Civil Administration demolished a two-room concrete house with a balcony Qassem had built outside the cave, which the family had outgrown. Later, it demolished the tent the family had put up in place of the house.

The family returned and built another tent, which was demolished this month. It was their fifth Israeli demolition, says Qassem while lying inside the cave on a mat. The cave has all the possessions the family was able to snatch from the tent before it was demolished, including mattresses, kerosene burners, gas tanks, a small cupboard and a cooler. The Israelis also destroyed the pen.

We sat and watched how they demolished the tent and pen,” says Afaf, Radwan’s wife. “And what could we do? I cried because of this horrible scene.”

Their neighbor, Jawaher Nasasreh, recalls that soldiers came to her family tent before the bulldozers arrived, “and they started cutting up the canvas with their knives,” while she wrapped slices of cheese in cloth and laid a metal tray on them, and then put two concrete bricks on top of that. She said the demolishing force spilled the water out of all their water containers.

In other places they only knocked down the tent,” she says. “With us, they really destroyed things, maybe because my husband argued with them. My husband told the soldier: ‘I’ll come back and rebuild.’ And the soldier told him: ‘I’ll come back and demolish.”

The demolitions racked six families and 23 structures including a junk truck serving as a storage room and an outdoor oven in the cave.

After Khirbet Tana, Civil Administration inspectors and the army spent two full days demolishing structures in another eight Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley: Khirbet Ein Karzaliyah, al-Mukasar, Fasail, al-Misfah, Abu al-Ajaj, Khalet Khader, Bardale and Ein al-Beida.

The Israelis destroyed tents people were living in, huts, pens, herd enclosures, an access road (which makes it very hard to deliver humanitarian aid to the families), a two-kilometer pipe meant to provide water to 50 families in the area, storage facilities and a dairy. Some of the tents and the pipe were donated by international organizations. Fifty-nine people, including 28 minors, were left without a roof over their heads, B’Tselem reported.

After this demolition wave, Robert Piper, the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Assistance and Development Aid for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, said: “Most of the demolitions in the West Bank take place on the spurious legal grounds that Palestinians do not possess building permits, but, in Area C, official Israeli figures indicate only 1.5 percent of Palestinian permit applications are approved in any case. So what legal options are left for a law-abiding Palestinian?”

Younes Qassem, 7, of the Bedouin community Zawahreh in Ein Rashash, came home early from school in Kafr Duma on Tuesday. He saw the bulldozers and hordes of jeeps, the soldiers (Border Police according to one source) and the workers raiding the tents.

He told Haaretz he was afraid, even though his family’s tent had not been demolished. It was the first demolition of this community, which lives (with permission) on land owned privately by village residents in the area, east of the village Mughayer and the Alon Highway.

Forty-three structures in two hours

This community is originally from the Negev; it was expelled after 1948 war. The people settled in the southern West Bank and in the 1990s migrated north.

On Tuesday, a few hours after the force that demolished the Bedouin’s structures left, the women and children were still meandering among the mattresses, blankets, food sacks and animal feed that rolled around in piles among the rocks. Shreds of plastic, the canvas and iron rods from which the tents were built, were lying on the ground next to water tanks and an overturned water trough.

Similar to testimonies from Khirbet Tana, the women talked about an armed female soldier who kept watch over them and the children, and an armed soldier who watched the men as workers threw the contents of their tents on the rocks. Meanwhile, bulldozers leveled the huts and tents.

In some places, Civil Administration workers spilled the sacks of flour, salt and sugar on the ground. Forty-three structures were demolished within two hours, among them 10 residences, 25 pens and eight outdoor kitchens. Almost 60 people, among them 38 children, lost their shelter.

The villagers of Khirbet Tana and the Bedouin of Ein Rashash make a living as shepherds and from selling cheese and meat. The first concern in both communities after the demolition was rebuilding the sheep pens and returning immediately to shepherding. The two areas attract many Israeli hikers, among them settlers.

When their vehicle gets stuck on the way to the Ein Rashash spring, we rescue them,” a community member said. “We use a tractor to pull their stuck vehicle.”

The hikers visit regularly even though the Israel Defense Forces declared the two areas, in which these two communities live, a closed military zone. Members of the two communities say that if there are training exercises, they only take place in a small part of the area.

Khirbet Tana is located in an area that was declared Closed Military Zone 904a, which covers 42,500 dunams (10,500 acres). The army trains on less than 8,000 dunams of that zone, about 19 percent. It trains often in some parts, rarely in others.

The Zawahreh community lies in Closed Military Zone 906, whose size is 88,000 dunams. The army regularly uses about 2,600 dunams of that area (2.9 percent) and sometimes uses about 9,400 dunams (10.6 percent), based on calculations by researcher Dror Etkes in his report “A Locked Garden” for the NGO Kerem Navot.

Zone 906 includes around 8,000 dunams of land registered as privately owned by local villagers. Declaring the area a closed military zone prevented Palestinian farmers from working their land, which became gradually became barren and therefore served as pasture for the Bedouin families. The Zawahreh tent is on this private land, on the edges of the firing zone. The community moves to a tent camp outside the firing zone every summer.

Attorney Shlomo Lecker represented the Zawahreh community in a case against the Civil Administration in the High Court of Justice. The state rescinded the evacuation orders it had issued in 2010 (in response to Lecker’s case that the residents were permanent residents inside a closed military zone), and replaced them with demolition orders sent to the residents last November.

In the name of the residents, Lecker petitioned the Civil Administration on December 1 to wait five months until the community moved to the tent camp outside the firing zone. According to the residents, they could pay for the costly move after the winter and spring seasons when they sell most of their cheese products. The demolition on Tuesday was the response.

Radwan Qassem of Khirbet Tana recounts the history of run-ins with his village.

In 1967 the Jews shot our sheep,” he recalls. “In 1971 they took the shepherds in a helicopter to Jericho and we paid a ransom for them to be released. In 1973 they took the sheep to Jericho, and we paid to redeem them. And then came the demolitions.”

The demolitions were conducted in the 1990s during the Oslo peace process and the spread of illegal Jewish outposts. In 2011 the army and Civil Administration demolished 12 ancient caves. A petition to the High Court of Justice stopped the cave demolitions. The judges proposed that the sides reach a compromise. The state demanded that the residents evacuate their homes and land and receive entry permits into the area for agriculture and shepherding, but without sleeping there overnight.

The residents refused, attorney Tawfeeq Jabareen, who submitted the petition, told Haaretz. He said the judges weren’t impressed by his explanations that the community and its way of life, which depends on pastures, preceded the establishment of the state and the declaration of firing zones. The judges were only excited by the information he provided about outposts of the settlement of Itamar, which are also in the firing zone.

The state said it had evacuated an outpost known as the “Itamar Cohen compound” (which came back with a new building), and claimed that other outposts, especially the one known as Hill 777 or Arnon Hill which was established in 1998 and in which permanent structures are built on the edges of the firing zone and on top of a hill. So they had less of an effect on the training exercises.

According to the testimony of a resident of another Palestinian village in the area, recorded in “A Locked Garden,” the army stopped training in the areas under the outposts’ control and moved to other areas in the firing zone to train. Because of the outposts, the Palestinians cannot return to work their land.

In the state’s response to Jabareen’s petition, the attorney general’s office stated that “the exercise training areas are the land resource for building security forces and especially building the IDF… With the development of more advanced weapons and larger firing ranges arises the need for areas that continue to grow, both in Israel and in the West Bank. Land is a resource in short supply.”

It said that “notwithstanding the security threats to Israel and the Judea and Samaria region… expansive areas were required for the purpose of training army units.”

And thus, justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Salim Joubran and Uzi Vogelman rejected the petition in November, and the residents knew they had to prepare for the impending demolition.

The Civil Administration said that based on its authority, it “carries out enforcement against illegal structures in line with priorities and operational considerations.” It did not respond to the question of whether the surge in demolitions, especially of European-funded structures, stemmed from pressure by the Knesset subcommittee. Nor did it respond to a request to provide its data on the demolitions.

The United States versus America: Our regime-change policy in Syria is insane

February 22, 2016

by Justin Raimondo


Here’s the final proof that our foreign policy of global meddling has gone off the deep end: the two Syrian factions we are subsidizing are now battling one another. The latest iteration of the “moderate” Islamist jihadists we’ve been backing recently engaged in a pitched battle with the Kurdish “People’s Protection Units” (YPG). Both are recipients of US tax dollars and the Kurds have the luxury of US “advisors” embedded in their ranks.

In effect, one branch of our gargantuan national security bureaucracy is conducting a proxy war against another branch – and if that doesn’t underscore how irrational and out of control our foreign policy mandarins are, then I don’t know what will.

The civil war in Syria, which was started by Islamists, and actively encouraged by longstanding US efforts to overthrow strongman Bashar al-Assad, has no “good guys.” The Islamists — gathered together in a bewildering and ever-shifting array of alliances and “united fronts” — are head-chopping totalitarians who want to create an Islamic state: their only difference with the ISIS-inspired “Islamic State” is over tactics, and which gang of thugs gets to be kings-of-the-mountain. They are supposedly fighting ISIS, but most of their efforts seem to be directed at toppling Assad and destroying the last secular outposts in Syria.

And the Kurds are no angels, either. In spite of their lionization by the left-leaning media, the YPG is the Syrian branch of a terrorist organization known as the Kurdish Workers Party, which has carried out deadly attacks on civilian targets in Turkey. Furthermore, they are not exactly liberal democrats: they ruthlessly suppress any and all internal opposition, forcing noncombatants to join their ranks, recruiting child soldiers, and  kidnapping and murdering Arab activists. Territory under their control is subject to the ethnic cleansing of non-Kurdish residents, especially Arabs.

Why are we backing any of these groups?

The ostensible reason is the necessity of fighting our never-ending “war on terrorism,” and yet we are protecting if not actively backing the very terrorist group whose attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon inaugurated this dark chapter in our history: Al Qaeda.

This is incredibly hard for ordinary Americans to process: indeed, it seems completely unbelievable. And yet it’s true, as this report from the Washington Post on the progress of efforts to initiate a ceasefire in the Syrian civil war makes all too clear:

One of the many problems to be overcome is a differing definition of what constitutes a terrorist group. In addition to the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, Russia and Syria have labeled the entire opposition as terrorists.

Jabhat al-Nusra, whose forces are intermingled with moderate rebel groups in the northwest near the Turkish border, is particularly problematic. Russia was said to have rejected a U.S. proposal to leave Jabhat al-Nusra off-limits to bombing as part of a cease-fire, at least temporarily, until the groups can be sorted out.

Don’t be fooled: “Jabhat al-Nusra” is just another name for the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.

So why is our government protecting the crazed terrorists who brought down the World Trade Center?

The reason is because the “Free Syrian Army,” the “vetted” sock puppets of Washington, aren’t any good at fighting: they have suffered a series of defections to more effective jihadist groups, namely ISIS and al-Nusra. And since the United States isn’t that interested in fighting ISIS to begin with – and is, instead, focused on bringing down Assad – they have effectively joined in a united front with Osama bin Laden’s heirs.

The original purpose of our “war on terrorism” – the destruction of Islamist radicalism and the eradication of al-Qaeda – is now turned on its head. Instead of fighting them, we are fighting alongside them.

This is a direct result of the policy pursued by Hillary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State: it was Mrs. Clinton, in tandem with then CIA director David Petraeus, who argued for an all out effort to overthrow Assad using the Islamists as a battering ram. President Obama resisted, but – having turned his foreign policy over to the Clintonians early on – he adopted a watered-down version of this misguided Machiavellianism, with results that are all too apparent in the current imbroglio.

With Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel all pouncing like vultures on prostrate Syria, and Russia intervening to prop up Damascus, the potential for World War III has never been greater. Syria is the Balkans of the Middle East, with every neighboring country plotting and scheming to take advantage of its weakness – and we are right in the middle of it.

We have no legitimate reason for intervening in Syria’s civil war: let the Russians take care of ISIS – which they are doing far more effectively than we are, in spite of the Western media’s propagandistic talking points which aver that Putin is only attacking the US-backed opposition. The Russians are wiping ISIS out, thus depriving the War Party in Washington of their pretext for US intervention. And standing behind the “get Assad” campaign is the Israel lobby, which, as usual, is eager to have the US do Bibi’s dirty work for him by taking out yet another enemy of the Zionist project.

How a Pink Flower Defeated the World’s Sole Superpower

America’s Opium War in Afghanistan

by Alfred W. McCoy


After fighting the longest war in its history, the United States stands at the brink of defeat in Afghanistan. How can this be possible? How could the world’s sole superpower have battled continuously for 15 years, deploying 100,000 of its finest troops, sacrificing the lives of 2,200 of those soldiers, spending more than a trillion dollars on its military operations, lavishing a record hundred billion more on “nation-building” and “reconstruction,” helping raise, fund, equip, and train an army of 350,000 Afghan allies, and still not be able to pacify one of the world’s most impoverished nations? So dismal is the prospect for stability in Afghanistan in 2016 that the Obama White House has recently cancelled a planned further withdrawal of its forces and will leave an estimated 10,000 troops in the country indefinitely.

Were you to cut through the Gordian knot of complexity that is the Afghan War, you would find that in the American failure there lies the greatest policy paradox of the century: Washington’s massive military juggernaut has been stopped dead in its steel tracks by a pink flower, the opium poppy.

For more than three decades in Afghanistan, Washington’s military operations have succeeded only when they fit reasonably comfortably into Central Asia’s illicit traffic in opium, and suffered when they failed to complement it. The first U.S. intervention there began in 1979. It succeeded in part because the surrogate war the CIA launched to expel the Soviets from that country coincided with the way its Afghan allies used the country’s swelling drug traffic to sustain their decade-long struggle.

On the other hand, in the almost 15 years of continuous combat since the U.S. invasion of 2001, pacification efforts have failed to curtail the Taliban insurgency largely because the U.S. could not control the swelling surplus from the county’s heroin trade. As opium production surged from a minimal 180 tons to a monumental 8,200 in the first five years of U.S. occupation, Afghanistan’s soil seemed to have been sown with the dragon’s teeth of ancient Greek myth. Every poppy harvest yielded a new crop of teenaged fighters for the Taliban’s growing guerrilla army.

At each stage in Afghanistan’s tragic, tumultuous history over the past 40 years — the covert war of the 1980s, the civil war of the 1990s, and the U.S. occupation since 2001 — opium played a surprisingly significant role in shaping the country’s destiny. In one of history’s bitter twists of fate, the way Afghanistan’s unique ecology converged with American military technology transformed this remote, landlocked nation into the world’s first true narco-state — a country where illicit drugs dominate the economy, define political choices, and determine the fate of foreign interventions.

Covert Warfare (1979-1992)

The CIA’s secret war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s helped transform the lawless Afghan-Pakistani borderlands into the seedbed for a sustained expansion of the global heroin trade. “In the tribal area,” the State Department would report in 1986, “there is no police force. There are no courts. There is no taxation. No weapon is illegal… Hashish and opium are often on display.” By then, the process had long been underway. Instead of forming its own coalition of resistance leaders, the Agency relied on Pakistan’s crucial Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) and its Afghan clients who soon became principals in the burgeoning cross-border opium traffic.

Not surprisingly, the Agency looked the other way while Afghanistan’s opium production grew unchecked from about 100 tons annually in the 1970s to 2,000 tons by 1991. In 1979 and 1980, just as the CIA effort was beginning to ramp up, a network of heroin laboratories opened along the Afghan-Pakistan frontier.  That region soon became the world’s largest heroin producer. By 1984, it supplied a staggering 60% of the U.S. market and 80% of the European one. Inside Pakistan, the number of heroin addicts went from near zero (yes, zero) in 1979 to 5,000 in 1980 and 1,300,000 by 1985 — a rate of addiction so high the U.N. called it “particularly shocking.”

According to the 1986 State Department report, opium “is an ideal crop in a war-torn country since it requires little capital investment, is fast growing, and is easily transported and traded.” Moreover, Afghanistan’s climate was well suited to this temperate crop, with average yields two to three times higher than in Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle region, the previous capital of the opium trade. As relentless warfare between CIA and Soviet surrogates generated at least three million refugees and disrupted food production, Afghan farmers began to turn to opium “in desperation” since it produced such easy “high profits” which could cover rising food prices. At the same time, resistance elements, according to the State Department, engaged in opium production and trafficking “to provide staples for [the] population under their control and to fund weapons purchases.”

As the mujahedeen resistance gained strength and began to create liberated zones inside Afghanistan in the early 1980s, it helped fund its operations by collecting taxes from peasants producing lucrative opium poppies, particularly in the fertile Helmand Valley, once the breadbasket of southern Afghanistan. Caravans carrying CIA arms into that region for the resistance often returned to Pakistan loaded down with opium — sometimes, the New York Times reported, “with the assent of Pakistani or American intelligence officers who supported the resistance.”

Once the mujahedeen fighters brought the opium across the border, they sold it to Pakistani heroin refiners operating in the country’s North-West Frontier Province, a covert-war zone administered by the CIA’s close ally General Fazle Haq. By 1988, there were an estimated 100 to 200 heroin refineries in the province’s Khyber district alone. Further south in the Koh-i-Soltan district of Baluchistan Province, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the CIA’s favored Afghan asset, controlled six refineries that processed much of the opium harvest from the Helmand Valley into heroin. Trucks of the Pakistani army’s National Logistics Cell, arriving in these borderlands from the port of Karachi with crates of weaponry from the CIA, left with cargos of heroin for ports and airports where it would be exported to world markets.

In May 1990, as this covert operation was ending, the Washington Post reported that the CIA’s chief asset Hekmatyar was also the rebels’ leading heroin trafficker. American officials, the Post claimed, had long refused to investigate charges of heroin dealing by Hekmatyar, as well as Pakistan’s ISI, largely “because U.S. narcotics policy in Afghanistan has been subordinated to the war against Soviet influence there.”

Indeed, Charles Cogan, former director of the CIA’s Afghan operation, later spoke frankly about his Agency’s choices. “Our main mission was to do as much damage as possible to the Soviets,” he told Australian television in 1995. “We didn’t really have the resources or the time to devote to an investigation of the drug trade. I don’t think that we need to apologize for this… There was fallout in term of drugs, yes. But the main objective was accomplished. The Soviets left Afghanistan.”

The Afghan Civil War and the Rise of the Taliban (1989-2001)

Over the longer term, such a “clandestine” intervention (so openly written and bragged about) produced a black hole of geopolitical instability never sealed or healed thereafter.

Lying at the northern reaches of the seasonal monsoon, where rain clouds arrive already squeezed dry, arid Afghanistan never recovered from the unprecedented devastation it suffered in the years of the first American intervention. Other than irrigated areas like the Helmand Valley, the country’s semi-arid highlands were already a fragile ecosystem straining to sustain sizeable populations when war first broke out in 1979. As that war wound down between 1989 and 1992, the Washington-led alliance essentially abandoned the country, failing either to sponsor a peace settlement or finance reconstruction.

Washington simply turned elsewhere as a vicious civil war broke out in a country with 1.5 million dead, three million refugees, a ravaged economy, and a bevy of well-armed warlords primed to fight for power. During the years of vicious civil strife that followed, Afghan farmers raised the only crop that ensured instant profits, the opium poppy.  The opium harvest, having multiplied twentyfold to 2,000 tons during the covert-war era of the 1980s, would double during the civil war of the 1990s.

In this period of turmoil, opium’s ascent should be seen as a response to the severe damage two decades of warfare had inflicted. With the return of those three million refugees to a war-ravaged land, the opium fields were an employment godsend, since they required nine times as many laborers to cultivate as wheat, the country’s traditional staple. In addition, opium merchants alone were capable of accumulating capital rapidly enough to be able to provide much-needed cash advances to poor poppy farmers that equaled more than half their annual income. That credit would prove critical to the survival of many poor villagers.

In the civil war’s first phase from 1992 to 1994, ruthless local warlords combined arms and opium in a countrywide struggle for power. Determined to install its Pashtun allies in Kabul, the Afghan capital, Pakistan worked through the ISI to deliver arms and funds to its chief client Hekmatyar.  By now, he was the nominal prime minister of a fractious coalition whose troops would spend two years shelling and rocketing Kabul in fighting that left the city in ruins and some 50,000 more Afghans dead. When he nonetheless failed to take the capital, Pakistan threw its backing behind a newly arisen Pashtun force, the Taliban, a fundamentalist movement that had emerged from militant Islamic schools.

After seizing Kabul in 1996 and taking control of much of the country, the Taliban regime encouraged local opium cultivation, offering government protection to the export trade and collecting much needed taxes on both the opium produced and the heroin manufactured from it. U.N. opium surveys showed that, during their first three years in power, the Taliban raised the country’s opium crop to 4,600 tons, or 75% percent of world production at that moment.

In July 2000, however, as a devastating drought entered its second year and mass starvation spread across Afghanistan, the Taliban government suddenly ordered a ban on all opium cultivation in an apparent appeal for international recognition and aid. A subsequent U.N. crop survey of 10,030 villages found that this prohibition had reduced the harvest by 94% to a mere 185 tons.

Three months later, the Taliban sent a delegation headed by its deputy foreign minister, Abdur Rahman Zahid, to U.N. headquarters in New York to barter a continuing drug prohibition for diplomatic recognition. That body instead imposed new sanctions on the regime for protecting Osama bin Laden. The U.S., on the other hand, actually rewarded the Taliban with $43 million in humanitarian aid, even as it seconded U.N. criticism over bin Laden. Announcing this aid in May 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell praised “the ban on poppy cultivation, a decision by the Taliban that we welcome” and urged the regime to “act on a number of fundamental issues that separate us: their support for terrorism; their violation of internationally recognized human rights standards, especially their treatment of women and girls.”

The War on Terror (2001-2016)

After a decade of ignoring Afghanistan, Washington rediscovered the place with a vengeance in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Only weeks later, in October 2001, the U.S. began bombing the country and then launched an “invasion” spearheaded by local warlords. The Taliban regime collapsed, in the words of veteran New York Times reporter R.W. Apple, with a speed “so sudden and so unexpected that government officials and commentators on strategy… are finding it hard to explain.” Although the U.S. air attacks did considerable physical and psychological damage, many other societies have withstood far more massive bombardments without collapsing in this fashion. In retrospect, it seems likely that the opium prohibition had economically eviscerated the Taliban, leaving its theocracy a hollow shell that shattered with the first American bombs.

To an extent not generally appreciated, for the previous two decades Afghanistan had devoted a growing share of its resources — capital, land, water, and labor — to the production of opium and heroin. By the time the Taliban outlawed cultivation, the country had become, agriculturally, little more than an opium monocrop. The drug trade accounted for most of its tax revenues, almost all its export income, and much of its employment. In this context, opium eradication proved to be an act of economic suicide that brought an already weakened society to the brink of collapse. Indeed, a 2001 U.N. survey found that the ban had “resulted in a severe loss of income for an estimated 3.3 million people,” 15% of the population, including 80,000 farmers, 480,000 itinerant laborers, and their millions of dependents.

While the U.S. bombing campaign raged throughout October 2001, the CIA spent $70 million “in direct cash outlays on the ground” to mobilize its old coalition of tribal warlords to take down the Taliban, an expenditure President George W. Bush would later hail as one of history’s biggest “bargains.” To capture Kabul and other key cities, the CIA put its money behind the leaders of the Northern Alliance, which the Taliban had never fully defeated. They, in turn, had long dominated the drug traffic in the area of northeastern Afghanistan they controlled in the Taliban years. In the meantime, the CIA also turned to a group of rising Pashtun warlords who had been active as drug smugglers in the southeastern part of the country.  As a result, when the Taliban went down, the groundwork had already been laid for the resumption of opium cultivation and the drug trade on a major scale.

Once Kabul and the provincial capitals were taken, the CIA quickly ceded operational control to uniformed allied forces and civilian officials whose inept drug suppression programs in the years to come would, in the end, leave the heroin traffic’s growing profits first to those warlords and, in later years, largely to the Taliban guerrillas. In the first year of U.S. occupation, before that movement had even reconstituted itself, the opium harvest surged to 3,400 tons. In a development without historical precedent, illicit drugs would be responsible for an extraordinary 62% percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2003. For the first few years of the U.S. occupation, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld “dismissed growing signs that drug money was being funneled to the Taliban,” while the CIA and the U.S. military “turned a blind eye to drug-related activities by prominent warlords.”

In late 2004, after nearly two years in which it showed next to no interest in the subject, outsourcing opium control to its British allies and police training to the Germans, the White House was suddenly confronted with troubling CIA intelligence suggesting that the escalating drug trade was fueling a revival of the Taliban. Backed by President Bush, Secretary of State Powell then urged an aggressive counter-narcotics strategy, including a Vietnam-style aerial defoliation of parts of rural Afghanistan. But U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad resisted this approach, seconded by his local ally Ashraf Ghani, then the country’s finance minister (and now its president), who warned that such an eradication program would mean “widespread impoverishment” in the country without $20 billion in foreign aid to create “genuine alternative livelihood[s].”

As a compromise, Washington came to rely on private contractors like DynCorp to train Afghan manual eradication teams. However, by 2005, according to New York Times correspondent Carlotta Gall, that approach had already become “something of a joke.” Two years later, as the Taliban insurgency and opium cultivation both spread in what seemed to be a synergistic fashion, the U.S. Embassy again pressed Kabul to accept the kind of aerial defoliation the U.S. had sponsored in Colombia. President Hamid Karzai refused, leaving this critical problem unresolved.

The U.N.’s Afghanistan Opium Survey 2007 found that the annual harvest was up 24% to a record 8,200 tons, which translated into 53% of the country’s GDP and 93% of the world’s illicit heroin supply. Significantly, the U.N. stated that Taliban guerrillas had “started to extract from the drug economy resources for arms, logistics, and militia pay.” A study for the U.S. Institute of Peace concluded that, by 2008, the movement had 50 heroin labs in its territory and controlled 98% of the country’s poppy fields.  That year, it reportedly collected $425 million in “taxes” levied on opium traffic, and with every harvest, it gained the necessary funds to recruit a new crop of young fighters from the villages. Each of those prospective guerrillas could count on monthly payments of $300, far above the wages they would have made as agricultural laborers.

In mid-2008, to contain the spreading insurgency, Washington decided to commit 40,000 more American combat troops to the country, raising allied forces to 70,000. Recognizing the crucial role of opium revenues in Taliban recruitment practices, the U.S. Treasury also formed the Afghan Threat Finance Cell and embedded 60 of its analysts in combat units charged with launching strategic strikes against the drug trade.

Using quantitative methods of “social network analysis” and “influence network modeling,” those instant civilian experts would often, according to one veteran analyst, “point to hawala brokers [rural creditors] as critical nodes within an insurgent group’s network,” prompting U.S. combat soldiers to take “kinetic courses of action — quite literally, kicking down the door of the hawala office and shutting down the operation.” Such “highly controversial” acts might “temporarily degrade the financial network of an insurgent group,” but those gains came “at the cost of upsetting an entire village” dependent on the lender for legitimate credit that was the “vast majority of the hawalador’s business.” In this way, once again, support for the Taliban grew.

By 2009, the guerrillas were expanding so rapidly that the new Obama administration opted for a “surge” in U.S. troop strength to 102,000 in a bid to cripple the Taliban. After months of rising troop deployments, President Obama’s new war strategy was officially launched on February 13, 2010, in Marja, a remote market town in Helmand Province. As waves of helicopters descended on its outskirts spitting up clouds of dust, hundreds of Marines sprinted through fields of sprouting opium poppies toward the town’s mud-walled compounds. Though their target was the local Taliban guerrillas, the Marines were in fact occupying the capital of the global heroin trade. Forty percent of the world’s illicit opium supply was grown in the surrounding districts and much of that crop was traded in Marja.

A week later, U.S. Commander General Stanley McChrystal choppered into town with Karim Khalili, Afghanistan’s vice president, for the media rollout of a new-look counterinsurgency strategy that, he told reporters, was rock-solid certain to pacify villages like Marja. Only it would never be so because the opium trade would spoil the party. “If they come with tractors,” one Afghan widow announced to a chorus of supportive shouts from her fellow farmers, “they will have to roll over me and kill me before they can kill my poppy.” Speaking by satellite telephone from the region’s opium fields, a U.S. Embassy official told me: “You can’t win this war without taking on drug production in Helmand Province.”

Watching these events unfold nearly six years ago, I wrote an essay for TomDispatch warning of a defeat foretold. “So the choice is clear enough,” I said at the time. “We can continue to fertilize this deadly soil with yet more blood in a brutal war with an uncertain outcome… or we can help renew this ancient, arid land by re-planting the orchards, replenishing the flocks, and rebuilding the farming destroyed in decades of war… until food crops become a viable alternative to opium. To put it simply, so simply that even Washington might understand, we can only pacify a narco-state when it is no longer a narco-state.”

By attacking the guerrillas but ignoring the opium harvest that funded new insurgents every spring, Obama’s surge soon suffered that defeat foretold. As 2012 ended, the Taliban guerrillas had, according to the New York Times, “weathered the biggest push the American-led coalition is going to make against them.” Amid the rapid drawdown of allied forces to meet President Obama’s December 2014 deadline for “ending” U.S. combat operations, reduced air operations allowed the Taliban to launch mass-formation attacks in the north, northeast, and south, killing record numbers of Afghan army troops and police.

At the time, John Sopko, the U.S. special inspector for Afghanistan, offered a telling explanation for the Taliban’s survival. Despite the expenditure of a staggering $7.6 billion on “drug eradication” programs during the previous decade, he concluded that, “by every conceivable metric, we’ve failed. Production and cultivation are up, interdiction and eradication are down, financial support to the insurgency is up, and addiction and abuse are at unprecedented levels in Afghanistan.”

Indeed, the 2013 opium crop covered a record 209,000 hectares, raising the harvest by 50% to 5,500 tons. That massive harvest generated some $3 billion in illicit income, of which the Taliban’s tax took an estimated $320 million, well over half its revenues. The U.S. Embassy corroborated this dismal assessment, calling the illicit income “a windfall for the insurgency, which profits from the drug trade at almost every level.”

As the 2014 opium crop was harvested, fresh U.N. figures suggested that the dismal trend only continued, with the areas under cultivation rising to a record 224,000 hectares and production at 6,400 tons remaining near historic highs. In May 2015, having watched this flood of drugs enter the global market as U.S. counter-narcotics spending climbed to $8.4 billion, Sopko tried to translate what was happening into a single all-American image. “Afghanistan,” he said, “has roughly 500,000 acres, or about 780 square miles, devoted to growing opium poppy. That’s equivalent to more than 400,000 U.S. football fields — including the end zones.”

In the fighting season of 2015, the Taliban decisively seized the combat initiative and opium seemed ever more deeply embedded in its operations. The New York Times reported that the movement’s new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was “among the first major Taliban officials to be linked to the drug trade… and later became the Taliban’s main tax collector for the narcotics trade — creating immense profits.” After months of relentless pressure on government forces in three northern provinces, the group’s first major operation under his command was the two-week seizure of the strategic city of Kunduz, which just happened to be located on “the country’s most lucrative drug routes… moving opium from the poppy prolific provinces in the south to Tajikistan… and to Russia and Europe.” Washington felt forced to slam down the brakes on planned further withdrawals of its combat forces.

Amid a rushed evacuation of its regional offices in the threatened northern provinces, the U.N. released a map in October showing that the Taliban had “high” or “extreme” control in more than half the country’s rural districts, including many where they had not previously been a significant presence. Within a month, the Taliban unleashed offensives countrywide that aimed at seizing and holding territory, threatening military bases in northern Faryab Province and encircling entire districts in western Herat.

Not surprisingly, the strongest attacks came in the poppy heartland of Helmand Province, where half the country’s opium crop was then grown and, said the New York Times, “the lucrative opium trade made it crucial to the insurgents’ economic designs.” By mid-December, after overrunning checkpoints, winning back much of the province, and setting government security forces back on their heels, the guerrillas came close to capturing that heart of the heroin trade, Marja, the very site of President Obama’s media-saturated surge rollout in 2010.  Had U.S. Special Operations forces and the U.S. Air Force not intervened to relieve “demoralized” Afghan forces, the town and the province would undoubtedly have fallen. By early 2016, 14-plus years after Afghanistan was “liberated” by a U.S. invasion, and in a significant reversal of Obama administration drawdown policies, the U.S. was reportedly dispatching “hundreds” of new U.S. troops in a mini-surge into Helmand Province to shore up the government’s faltering forces and deny the insurgents the “economic prize” of the world’s most productive poppy fields.

After a disastrous 2015 fighting season that inflicted what U.S. officials have termed “unsustainable” casualties on the Afghan army and what the UN called the “real horror” of record civilian losses, the long, harsh winter that has settled across the country is offering no respite. As cold and snow slowed combat in the countryside, the Taliban shifted operations to the cities, with five massive bombings in Kabul and other key urban areas in the first week of January, followed by a suicide attack on a police complex in the capital that killed 20 officers.

Meanwhile, as the 2015 harvest ended, the country’s opium cultivation, after six years of sustained growth, slipped by 18% to 183,000 hectares and the crop yield dropped steeply to 3,300 tons. While U.N. officials attributed much of the decline to drought and the spread of a poppy fungus, conditions that might not continue into 2016, long-term trends are still an unclear mix of positive and negative news. Buried in the mass of data published in the U.N.’s drug reports is one significant statistic: as Afghanistan’s economy grew from years of international aid, opium’s share of GDP dropped steadily from a daunting 63% in 2003 to a far more manageable 13% in 2014. Even so, the U.N. says, “dependency on the opiate economy at the farmer level in many rural communities is still high.”

At that local level in Helmand Province, “Afghan government officials have also become directly involved in the opium trade,” the New York Times recently reported. In doing so, they expanded “their competition with the Taliban… into a struggle for control of the drug traffic,” while imposing “a tax on farmers practically identical to the one the Taliban uses,” and kicking a portion of their illicit profits “up the chain, all the way to officials in Kabul… ensuring that the local authorities maintain support from higher-ups and keeping the opium growing.”

Simultaneously, a recent U.N. Security Council investigation found that the Taliban has systematically tapped “into the supply chain at each stage of the narcotics trade,” collecting a 10% user tax on opium cultivation in Helmand, fighting for control of heroin laboratories, and acting as “the major guarantors for the trafficking of raw opium and heroin out of Afghanistan.” No longer simply taxing the traffic, the Taliban is now so deeply and directly involved that, adds the Times, it “has become difficult to distinguish the group from a dedicated drug cartel.” Whatever the long-term trends might be, for the foreseeable future opium remains deeply entangled with the rural economy, the Taliban insurgency, and government corruption whose sum is the Afghan conundrum.

With ample revenues from past bumper crops, the Taliban will undoubtedly be ready for the new fighting season that will come with the start of spring. As snow melts from the mountain slopes and poppy shoots spring from the soil, there will be, as in the past 40 years, a new crop of teenaged recruits ready to fight for the rebel forces.

Cutting the Afghan Gordian Knot

For most people globally, economic activity, the production and exchange of goods, is the prime point of contact with government, as is manifest in the coins and currency stamped by the state that everyone carries in their pockets.  But when a country’s most significant commodity is illegal, then political loyalties naturally shift to the clandestine networks that move that product safely from fields to foreign markets, providing finance, loans, and employment every step of the way. “The narcotics trade poisons the Afghan financial sector and fuels a growing illicit economy,” John Sopko explains. “This, in turn, undermines the Afghan state’s legitimacy by stoking corruption, nourishing criminal networks, and providing significant financial support to the Taliban and other insurgent groups.”

After 15 years of continuous warfare in Afghanistan, Washington is faced with the same choice it had five years ago when Obama’s generals heli-lifted those Marines into Marja to start its surge. Just as it has been over the past decade and a half, the U.S. can remain trapped in the same endless cycle, fighting each new crop of village warriors who annually seem to spring fully armed from that country’s poppy fields. At this point, history tells us one thing: in this land sown with dragon’s teeth, there will be a new crop of guerrillas this year, next year, and the year after that.

Even in troubled Afghanistan, however, there are alternatives whose sum could potentially slice through this Gordian knot of a policy problem. As a first and fundamental step, maybe it’s time to stop talking about the next sets of boots on the ground and for President Obama to complete his planned troop withdrawal.

Next, investing even a small portion of all that misspent military funding in rural Afghanistan could produce economic alternatives for the millions of farmers who depend upon the opium crop for employment. Such money could help rebuild that land’s ruined orchards, ravaged flocks, wasted seed stocks, and wrecked snowmelt irrigation systems that, before these decades of war, sustained a diverse agriculture. If the international community can continue to nudge the country’s dependence on illicit opium down from the current 13% of GDP through such sustained rural development, then perhaps Afghanistan will cease to be the planet’s leading narco-state and just maybe that annual cycle can at long last be broken.


Our new President and his Wife, Doris

No responses yet

Leave a Reply