What do you think of when you hear someone mentions poppies? A beautiful flower in bloom?
The Wizard of Oz?
For me, its poppies in bloom right before Memorial Day. When I was growing up, that was always the first sign that summer was right around the corner.
CNN's Special Investigations Unit: Narco State: The Poppy Jihad looks at poppies in a completely different way. As reported by Anderson Cooper, it examines the relationship between poppies, the drug war, and the war on terrorism.
Poppies are a $3 billion industry in Afghanistan. That's almost half of its Gross National Product.(source) Afghanistan is the largest producer of Opium in the world. Most of that comes from the Helmand province in the southern part of the country.
Peter Bergen pointed out in an interview that 4 years ago the Taliban was ancient history and now they're back.
Where are the Taliban gaining strength? In the provinces that are producing poppies. The money from the production of opium and heroin funds the resurgence of the Taliban.
So why not go in and destroy all of the poppy fields? Evidently, its not that easy. CNN visited the Uruzgan Province where the governor lives in a compound that is surrounded by poppy fields.
When US and Afghanistan officials talk with the leaders of the province, there is a debate on which farmers will be subjected to having their poppy crops destroyed. In the end, while attempting to destroy a poppy crop, the agents are attached and are not able to continue.
The program outlines the complexity of the issues. On one hand, NATO won't support the eradication of poppy crops. Eradicating a cash crop will cause unrest, violence, and destabilize the area. Some farmers tried raising alternative crops, but were unable to find buyers for them. Land owners force sharecroppers to grow poppies. The farmers get loaned money to support their families in return for growing and harvesting the crop.
The other side of the argument is that the poppies are funding the Taliban & terrorism. The Taliban uses the money to buy weapons. They are already trying to destabilize the Afghanistan government.
Drug enforcement doesn't stop at the poppy fields. DEA agents work with local authorities to train them to seek out and arrest those who are trafficking the drugs.
This is the raw opium that farmers harvest in the spring. The collection is done by hand and the process hasn't change in over a century.
Anderson Cooper interviewed the attorney general Abdul Jabar Sabed. Sabed is attempting to fight the government corruption that allows the drug trade to flourish.
Sabed's willingness to sign warrants for the arrest of corrupt government officials has made him a target. He's been shot at, beat up, and almost kidnapped.
This program painfully points out that although our attention has primarily been focused on Iraq over the last few years, there is still a war being fought in Afghanistan. A fight that in some areas the Taliban is winning.
CNN spent two and a half months working on this story. I was struck by the picture below where a camera man is helping an injured officer after the attack on the poppy eradication team in Uruzgan province.
If you didn't get the chance to see this excellent program, you'll probably be able to catch the repeat of it next weekend. Its well worth your time.
OK, my Mystery Journalist picture Friday was cropped way too much. So, let me try this again.
Is this a better clue? I'll post the answer in Tuesday night's post.
Have you ever wondered what's going on behind the scenes during the airing of a live program like The Situation Room? Well, one day last week, Wolf Blitzer wasn't taking phone calls...
The Ellen & Wolf saga continues...
If you want to see the original clip from the Situation Room, its posted here.