Afghan Opium: To Crack Down — or Not?

Driving the Taliban out of Marjah was the easy part. To keep them out, U.S. and Afghan officials must wean the region from its drug dependency

Tyler Hicks / The New York Times / Redux

U.S. Marines, responding to enemy fire, trample through a poppy field in Marjah. Opium is the region's economic mainstay, providing a livelihood for thousands.

When U.S. marines raided the notorious Lachoya opium bazaar in the southwestern Afghan region of Marjah at the start of their massive military offensive there last month, they found 700 kg of raw opium and 25 kilos of heroin. Anywhere else in the world, that would have been a major drug bust, but for Marjah, it was mere crumbs. After all, when Afghan and U.S. counternarcotics agents raided the same market nearly a year ago, the haul was measured in tons, not kilos. But the Marines lacked the element of surprise; to minimize civilian casualties, U.S. and NATO commander General Stanley...

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