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GAO: In Afghanistan's Counter-Drug Campaign, the Police Are a Problem

4 years ago
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David Wood
Chief Military Correspondent
The other war in Afghanistan isn't going all that well, either. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, reports Tuesday that almost half of the new police recruits test positive for drug use.

That's not good, considering that the police are in charge of the eradication of poppies, whose golf ball-size pods of sap are refined into raw heroin.

At any rate, the number of police users and addicts is probably understated, according to the State Department. "Many recruits who tested negative for drugs have shown opium withdrawal symptoms later in their training,'' the GAO quotes an anonymous State Department official as confiding. The GAO added: "While State recognizes that police addiction problems are an issue, a State official said that due to limited State financial resources, its U.S. drug demand reduction programs do not specifically target police forces.''

The United States has spent at least $2.5 billion since 2005 to try to eliminate poppy production in Afghanistan, which supplies more than 90 percent of the world's heroin. The United Nations estimates that as much as $160 million a year in drug profits flows into Taliban coffers to finance weapons, explosives, military gear, and training of insurgents.

If the regular Afghan National Police ranks are studded with heroin users and addicts, the GAO found an even worse problem among the police specifically trained and equipped to deal with drugs, the Counter Narcotics Police of Afghanistan (CNPA).

A recent Pentagon-led investigation found that Afghan counternarcotics police "are more susceptible to corruption than regular Afghan National Police officers due to the lucrative nature of the narcotics trade.''

For example, the GAO continues, "Department of Justice and Afghan officials noted that, in about one-third of cases from provinces, provincial CNPA personnel have submitted drugs as evidence to the Justice Center but did not arrest the criminal suspect or suspects.''

Much of Afghanistan's counternarcotics campaign is directed from the provincial level, part of an effort to bring good government to local jurisdictions.

It will come as no surprise, however, that corruption at that level is pervasive, too. The State Department acknowledges that local Afghan officials "have been known to facilitate drug activities and benefit from revenue streams produced by the drug trade.''

The one bright spot in this gloomy report is the GAO's conclusion that cold, hard cash seems to be part of the answer. The State Department pays $1 million in development funds to any province that is poppy-free. So far State has paid out more than $80 million to poppy-free provinces, although the effect has been to intensify poppy cultivation in other provinces, notably in the Taliban strongholds of Kandahar and Helmand.

Read the full GAO report here.

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