Saturday, February 21, 2009

British troops seize £50m of Taliban narcotics . Not.

British troops seize £50m of Taliban narcotics : "Seven hundred British troops seized four Taliban narcotics factories containing £50m of drugs and killed 20 enemy fighters in an operation in southern Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence said today."

The £50 million was specifically claimed by Defence Secretary John Hutton (no relation to Lord "Whitewash" Hutton afaik)
. Note that this piece is criticising the political spin, and is not criticising or belittling the courage and sacrifices of the troops who carried out the operation.

This sounds pretty good, a significant sum sliced off the Taleban's revenue source.
Except it isn't. Ben Goldacre does an analysis of the costings, and finds that the seizure amounted to 1260 of raw opium, worth about $12,600, not $71 ,000,000. I make that a markup of 5,635, correct me if wrong.

Still, never mind, thousands will have read the original news reports, probably 5000 times as many people than read Ben Goldacre's piece, so the good "news" of success has been implanted in the minds of the masses.

Stooping to this kind of misinformation suggests the bankruptcy of Government policy in Afghanistan, desperate to put out some good news to counter the steady acid rain of bad news about the foundering NATO operation.

Obama is going for the Surge option, of doubling his troops to 60,000, and calling on NATO allies to do likewise.

Will it work? General McKiernan doubts it. History is against NATO military victory in Afghanistan. Every foreign invader has left with their tails between their legs.

Victory will not come from military success, but from political success.

Non-students of political science may be surprised to learn that political success means that an Afghan Government, chosen by the people, should administer the whole country, not just a shrinking space around Kabul. The Government should also have a decent economy, and the level of corruption should be drastically reduced.

I have argued here (look at the Afghan and Opium labels below) that the way to go is to buy the Afghan poppy crop and use it to relieve terminal pain in Africa.

Please write to your MP asking Lord Malloch Brown to adopt this eminently reasonable strategy, which is official Green Party policy.

Here is a starter letter to copy and paste:

Dear [MP],

I would be most grateful if you would ask Lord Malloch Brown to re-consider the Government's position on the Afghan opium crop. The NATO operation in that country is clearly faltering, and General McKinley doubts that Obama's current surge is going to work.

In the circumstances, it is reasonable for HMG to consider the option of buying the poppy crop, converting it to medicines for relief of terminal pain in Africa, where millions die in unrelieved agony.

The central objection to the idea from the FCO is that the Afghan Government does not have the capability to roll out this programme. This objection puts the cart before the horse. Its writ currently does not run beyond Kabul and a shrinking area around, precisely because 40% of the Afghan economy is illicit. After an initial investment, under the protection of NATO troops, the Government will have control of the poppy areas, and will have a significant boost to its revenues.

Thank you for your help with this important matter.

Yours sincerely,

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