In "How the Drug War in Afghanistan Undermines America's War on Terror," Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies, writes that the U.S. military must not become the enemy of Afghan farmers whose livelihood depends on growing opium poppy.
"If zealous American drug warriors alienate hundreds of thousands of Afghan farmers, the Karzai government's hold on power, which is none too secure now, could become even more precarious," he writes. "Washington would then face the unpalatable choice of letting radical Islamists regain power or sending more U.S. troops to suppress the insurgency."
About 20 to 30 percent of the Afghan population is involved directly or indirectly in the drug trade. Further, Afghan farmers can earn between 10 and 30 times as much growing opium as they can growing other legal crops. Also, uprooting the opium crop would cut Afghanistan's GDP by 40 to 60 percent.
"For many of those people, opium poppy crops and other aspects of drug commerce are the difference between modest prosperity and destitution," he writes. "They will not look kindly on efforts to destroy their livelihood."
While Carpenter concedes that terrorist and other anti-government forces profit from the drug trade, the connection between drug trafficking and terrorism is a direct result of making drugs illegal and, therefore, extremely profitable.