Speaking at a dinner hosted by the Pacific Council on International Policy, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said the narcotics trade serves as the baseline for Afghanistan’s economy.
Farmers in a country that ranks among the poorest in the world, Mullen said, have little choice but to cultivate poppy to sell to insurgents, who turn profits from opium trade on the black market despite Afghan drug laws and national drug controls.
“[Narcotics trade] is the engine that’s running Afghanistan’s insurgency,” the admiral said. “And the extent of that is killing its people.”
Part of the solution has to be to replace the poppy crop with another means of revenue immediately, Mullen said. Otherwise, farmers most likely will continue to work for terrorists to support their families. He said the issue is not within the responsibility or capacity of the military, but rather is a matter for the entire group of nations working there to figure out.
“We just can’t keep looking the other way,” he added.
Another problem, the chairman said, is that as al-Qaida loosens its footprint in Iraq, officials have noticed more foreign fighters moving into Afghanistan from safe havens across the country’s border with Pakistan.
“Al-Qaida in Iraq is on the run,” Mullen said, and U.S. officals are concerned about new groups of foreign fighters infiltrating from Pakistan’s border regions.
Security improvements in Iraq are allowing the United States to commit more troops to Afghanistan, Mullen told the group. An additional Army brigade combat team and two Marine battalions have been added to the rotation in Afghanistan, an increase of more than 5,000 troops.
Militarily, the Afghan army has become a credible force, Mullen said, and a good connection has developed between Afghan and American troops. But the Afghan police have a long way to go and need some improvements, he acknowledged. Still, he said, better security in the country is in the foreseeable future, and the Afghan government is taking steps in the right direction.