US envoy: Afghanistan drug war a failure
Obama plans new agriculture reforms to aid Afghan farmers

Stephen C. Webster
Published: Sunday March 22, 2009

US and coalition efforts to eliminate the massive opium poppy trade in Afghanistan have failed under tremendous waste, according to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

"The United States alone is spending over 800 million dollars a year on counter-narcotics. We have gotten nothing out of it, nothing," Ambassador Richard Holbrooke said, at the Brussels Forum conference.

"It is the most wasteful and ineffective programme I have seen in 40 years in and out of the government," the new US representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan told an audience of senior world politicians and experts.

Despite an alleged 19 percent decrease in opium poppy production in 2008, Afghanistan remains the world's largest producer of the drug.

Efforts to destroy poppy crops "hasn't hurt the Taliban one iota because whatever money they're getting from the drug trade, they get whatever they need whether we reduce the acreage or not," he said. ... By forced eradication we've all been pushing farmers into Taliban hands."

Aerial fumigation
One of the eradication methods that was resisted by the US-backed Afghan President amid Karzai but put into place under President George W. Bush's State Dept. is aerial fumigation.

The Bush-era policy of spraying chemicals such as Roundup Ultra to eradicate marijuana, coca and opium poppies was called a "success" in Colombia under US Ambassador William B. Wood, whom the Colombians began referring to as "Chemical Bill."

The policy of aerial fumigation, one of the widest anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan, began in 2008, just months after the Bush administration appointed Wood ambassador to the country.

Roundup Ultra, one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, has glyphosate as an active ingredient.

"Glyphosate-containing products are more toxic via inhalation than orally," reported the Journal of Pesticide Reform. "Inhalation of Roundup by rats caused 'signs of toxicity in all test groups,' even at the lowest concentration tested. These signs included gasping, congested eyes, reduced activity,' and body weight loss. Lungs were red or blood-congested."

Reported symptoms in humans include elevated heart rate, digestive difficulties, increased risk of miscarriage in pregnant women, severe lung irritation, dizziness and heart palpitations.

The chemical's makers deny its reported adverse effects on human health. However, in 2002, Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) warned that aerial spraying of the chemical may pose a severe health risk to humans living near targeted sites.

A new path?
Ambassador Holbrooke, speaking to the Brussels Forum, said the new administration plans a different mode of handling year-to-year bumper crops of Afghan poppy.

The administration under President Barack Obama -- who ordered a complete overhaul of strategy in Afghanistan, a review expected to be completed in coming days -- would focus heavily on agriculture reform, he said.

The plan was to implement "a very significantly expanded agricultural sector job-creation set of programs -- irrigation, farmer to market roads, market places, seed.

"This is an area of great promise, rebuilding the Afghan economy is critical," Holbrooke said.