Friday, April 14, 2006

Yon Files 2 - From Kabul To The Poppy Fields

Some of the fields below obviously are poppy, but other areas are difficult to make out. Although only one species of poppy has narcotic properties, the number of variations remains uncatalogued. Photo Credit: Michael Yon

Michael Yon travels to the region where the number one cash crop in Afghanistan is grown. It is not so much that al-Qaida and the Taliban are the management problem here ... it is the speed at which these poppies can be grown and processed into heroin.

Excerpts from Michael Yon -

Friday, April 14th, 2006
Kabul to Lashkargar


When we landed in Kabul, Steve put the driver in the back and drove us through the crowded streets. There was a thirty minute ride ahead of us, alternating between racing and jamming in traffic. As we drove away from the airport, there were fewer Coalition soldiers about, and on the hills surrounding the town a dense warren of mud and stone houses that could have been erected thousands of years ago, although many insist that Kabul was once a little paradise.
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There’s lots of money in the addiction-business, and opium injects more liquidity into Afghanistan than all those 85 other products combined. Afghanistan is the Opium Poppy King, producing nearly all of the world’s supply. Continuing the trend of the past several years, the 2006 crop is believed to be the largest in the history of the world. This, I am told, is closely related to the coincident rising tide of violence in this country.

Over our two days in Kabul, I got more background information from locals and from Brits, one of whom had spent more than two decades in Afghanistan and surrounds. Both nights we drove downtown to meet people for dinner. The restaurant menus were in English, the prices in dollars. The first night I had fresh tuna that was flown in from Dubai. Later that night Steve cleverly managed to back his Land Cruiser into a parked SUV. The Afghan driver, who had been sleeping, came to high alert and jumped out the door, but the telephone number exchange was civil and matter of fact.
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Soon the Beechcraft had lifted us back into the dusty sky for the final leg to Lashkargar, the capital of Helmand Province, the navel of earth’s heroin production. Whereas the poppy in Uruzgan Province was not blooming and therefore difficult to spot from the air, much of the poppy in Helmand was flowering, and easy to see from the sky. The vast amounts of poppies under cultivation were astonishing, and had I not made photographic proof, I might be reluctant to say just how much is here.
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Steve tells me that Afghan farmers cultivate eleven variations of the opium species of poppy, and often one farmer will grow several types at once. Some plants need less water or are more cold resistant, and others are bred for late or early harvest, and still others are characterized by bigger yields or better disease resistance. Many of the poppy farms we would see on the ground had sections with white flowers, another with pink and a third with red.
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