Tom Diaz

Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’


In Afghanistan, bad manners, Corruption, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, Transnational crime on October 28, 2009 at 4:09 pm


Drug Money Fuels Taliban

Rick: Don’t you sometimes wonder if it’s worth all this? I mean what you’re fighting for.

Victor Laszlo: You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we’ll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.

Rick: Well, what of it? It’ll be out of its misery.

Victor Laszlo: You know how you sound, Mr. Blaine? Like a man who’s trying to convince himself of something he doesn’t believe in his heart.

Casablanca (1942)

The significance of the tragic deaths of three DEA agents in Afghanistan has largely been missed by the main stream media.

Why were they there?  What were they doing?  Why does it matter?


You Know Whos Doing You Know What in Afghanistan 2001 -- Cash Helped

The New York Times, for example, dithered today as only it can about the — gasp — “news”  that the CIA has been doling out cash in Afghanistan.  CIA?  Doling out cash among factions? To paraphrase Captain Renault in Casablanca, “I am shocked, shocked!”  Just kidding.  Yawn.  See, for example, Gary C. Schroen’s First In: An Insider’s Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan (2005). Here is an illustrative  excerpt of that first-hand account of the CIA’s contribution to the original rout of the Taliban:

I suggested to Rick that we offer to provide the Northern Alliance $500,000 for the local purchase of food and other humanitarian goods. He agreed, and we got out the black suitcase to count and wrap the money. I was especially grateful for the extra funds we had received the night before, because this payment to the Northern Alliance would have left us with only a little over $120,000 of the original $3 million we had brought with us. (Page 175)

Half-a-million here, half-a million there.  Pretty soon it adds up to some real money.  Hello?  Afghanistan is one of those places (there are so many in the world) where B—S–t walks and money talks.

To the MSM, this is news.  The other war — the drug war — in Afghanistan is a haze, a sideshow, and a distraction.

Here, however,  are excerpts from two sources that demonstrate that other war’s  centrality to not only the fighting in Afghanistan, but to the defense of Western civilization.

Statement for the Record

Wednesday, October 21, 2009, By Michael A. Braun Before the U. S. Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control Regarding ‘U.S. Counternarcotics Strategy in Afghanistan’

The Continued Evolution of the Taliban,

And 21st Century Global Organized Crime

The Taliban is following in the footsteps of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and at least 20 other terrorist groups designated by our nation, into a ‘hybrid terrorist organization.’ The Taliban was merely an insurgent group just a few short years ago, but they are now clearly one part designated terrorist organization—and one part global drug trafficking cartel.

Just like the FARC, the Taliban got its start in the global drug trade by simply taxing poor farmers, which is one of the world’s oldest forms of organized criminal extortion. They then began taxing the movement of drugs and precursor chemicals within Afghanistan, and across its borders. Like the FARC, the Taliban formed ever-closer relations with traditional traffickers as they grew more accustomed and comfortable with each other, and the Taliban eventually started providing security at the traditional traffickers’ clandestine laboratories and cache sites. In the private sector, it is called ‘outsourcing.’

The DEA reestablished its presence in Afghanistan in early 2003, after being forced from the country by the Soviet Union’s invasion in 1979. By 2005, the DEA clearly identified the Taliban’s involvement in protecting clandestine laboratory and drug cache sites for traditional traffickers. Flash forward just four short years. The Agency has unmistakably determined that the Taliban is now managing and operating major clandestine laboratories, drug cache sites, and poppy bazaars. They have morphed; they have become the manufactures and traffickers of heroin, opium, hashish and marijuana.

As an example, just two weeks ago the Counter Narcotics Police of Afghanistan and Afghan Army Commandos, supported by the DEA and U.S. military Special Forces, raided a major laboratory in Southern Afghanistan and seized approximately 1.8 metric tons of opium and heroin—a major haul by anyone’s calculations. It doesn’t stop there. Sixteen Taliban were killed at the site, and the evidence clearly reveals the group was involved in the manufacture of heroin.

What is even more troubling is the fact that Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and IED bomb making materials were recovered at the scene, along with a host of other weapons and Taliban propaganda and training manuals. Thanks to strong support from our military, raids like this are now taking place weekly. IEDs and IED bomb making materials, suicide vests, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, other weapons, as well as Taliban propaganda and training manuals, are routinely located at these sites. Nearly all of those labs, cache sites and opium bazaars are directly linked to the DEA’s High Value Targets (HVTs) in Afghanistan, and they provide a treasure trove of evidence that support future prosecutions.

The money generated by the Afghan opium and heroin trade is staggering, and most experts usually fail to consider how much money the Taliban derives from the hashish trade. In June 2008, the Counternarcotics Police of Afghanistan and Afghan Army Commandos, supported by the DEA and U.S. military Special Forces, raided a Taliban hashish processing facility near Spin Boldak in Southern Afghanistan where they seized 235 metric tons of the drug—by far the largest drug seizure in world history. The estimated Western European value of the drugs was over $600 million dollars. If the Taliban’s profit was just 5 percent, which is being overly conservative, they stood to gain $30 million dollars from the stash. Around the same time, the DEA and Afghan counterparts raided a HVT’s compound in Eastern Afghanistan and seized his drug ledgers, which clearly showed that $169 million dollars had moved through the traffickers hands for the sale of 81 metric tons of heroin over just a 10-month period. He is unequivocally affiliated with the Taliban, and is facing American justice.

The Bottom Line

We are not going to win the fight in Afghanistan until we get the country’s drug production and trafficking activity in check, because it provides a limitless stream of funding directly into the Taliban’s war chest.

Professor James Fearon of Stanford University completed a study in 2002 entitled, “Why Some Wars Last Longer than Others.” The professor identified and studied 128 civil wars and insurgencies from 1945 to 2000, and found that on average they lasted about eight years. However, he identified and isolated 17 of the 128 that lasted on average about five times longer than the other 111—40 years or longer. The common thread between the 17 was that the anti-government forces involved in the conflicts generated their own contraband revenue, most of which was through their involvement in one or more aspects of the global drug trade.

Finally, the Taliban and traditional drug traffickers both thrive in what our military calls ‘ungoverned space.’ In Afghanistan, they share a truly symbiotic relationship. When traditional drug traffickers successfully destabilize government by corrupting officials—the Taliban benefits. When the Taliban successfully destabilizes government through attacks on government forces or by intimidating the populace—the drug traffickers benefit. They are both constantly working to destabilize government and create permissive environments in which to operate, because they flourish in areas of weak governance. Consequently, if you fight one with any less passion and vigor than you fight the other, you are most likely doomed to fail.

And this from Strategypage:

Winning The Mind Games

The foreign troops are the principal Taliban target, as it’s a big deal for the Taliban to “cast out the infidels (non-Moslems).” Failure has been constant. Increasing the IED attacks this year by about twelve times the 2005 level has yielded 250 dead foreign troops.

But that is not enough to defeat the foreign troops in a military sense. NATO casualties in Afghanistan are already lower than those in Iraq, which are, in turn, only a third of the casualty rates in Vietnam and World War II. Historically, you have to kill at least ten percent of a force to have any chance of defeating it. But this year, the Taliban and drug gangs will kill a quarter of percent (one in 400) of the foreign troops.

What the Taliban, and especially the drug gangs, want to do is use the foreign troops casualties to persuade the foreign governments to remove those troops. The main reason for all this is to enable the drug gangs to keep manufacturing (via growing and processing poppy plants) heroin. This has made many Afghans (mainly Pushtuns) unimaginably wealthy (not hard to do in the poorest nation in Eurasia). While the Taliban have illusions about ruling Afghanistan again, the majority of Afghans (especially the 60 percent who are not Pushtun) want none of that, and have the guns and determination to get their way. But with the foreign troops gone, the drug gangs can buy the cooperation of most warlords, politicians and tribal leaders in the country.

While the drug gangs are rich, they are not a military match for the foreign troops. So they are basically running a propaganda game on the foreign governments providing those troops. The deaths of those foreign troops are made to look like the harbinger of some military apocalypse. So while the Taliban and drug gangs are losing militarily, they are winning the mind games. What will most likely do them in will be the next realization, by the foreign governments, and media, that the growing availability of cheaper heroin is causing demands from the voters to “do something.” Eventually, too many people connect the dots, and the Taliban scam is undone.

DEA Agents Training in 2008 For Deployment to Afghanistan

DEA Agents Training in 2008 For Deployment to Afghanistan as a Foreign-Deployed Advisory and Support Team (FAST) (DOJ Photo)


In Crime, Gangs, Latino gangs, Mexico, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, Transnational crime on February 4, 2009 at 3:20 am
F/A-18C Hornet)

"Conyo, Homes, The Navy Has Arrived!" (US Navy Photo: F/A-18C Hornet Dropping Flares Over the Pacific)

Salinas, California Mayor Dennis Donohue is fed up with gang-related violence. “Frankly, after three or four decades, we’re no longer interested in coexistence side-by-side with this subculture that has become embedded in our community,” Donohue vented last week to The Salinas Californian.  So he did the only reasonable thing a man in that spot can do — he called in the United States Navy.  More specifically, the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in nearby Monterey, a sweet spot on the coast of central California.

No, there won’t be any submarine-launched cruise missiles or F-18 air strikes raining down on problematic neighborhoods in Salinas, home town of John Steinbeck and now infested with a variety of violent street gangs.  But the city and its problems will be getting some heavy caliber thinking from a flight deck full of scholars specializing in counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency studies at the Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security.  As Herodotus observed, “Force has no place where there is need of skill.” (An aphorism quoted, I might add, at a convenient place in my forthcoming book, No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement, University of Michigan Press, 2009).  The case at hand ensures that there will be some interesting skills applied to this project.

Dr. Hy Rothstein will lead a team of from 10 to 15 faculty members.  If anything, Dr. Rothstein’s vita understates his apparently considerable practical and intellectual experience in the world of violent groups.  His academic credentials are book-ended by a 1974 BA from the United States Military Academy and a 2003 PhD from Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.  A retired Army colonel, he served for more than 20 years in a number of the Army’s Special Forces postings — including an early tour as military adviser to the El Salvadoran armed forces in 1987 to 1989, where he was decorated for valor.  He is the author of Afghanistan And the Troubled Future of Unconventional Warfare.

The New Yorker‘s high-toned muckraker Seymour M. Hersh dragged Rothstein reluctantly into the public light via an article in the magazine’s April 12, 2004 edition, “The Other War: Why Bush’s Afghanistan Problem Won’t Go Away” (still unsettling reading).  Hersh obtained a copy of an internal report that Rothstein had been asked to write critiquing the fracas in Afghanistan.  According to Hersh, “The report describes a wide gap between how Donald Rumsfeld represented the war and what was actually taking place.”  The report apparently upset ranking officials  in Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon — Rothstein was told to chop it back and tone it down, which he was disinclined to do.  In the event his opus thus was swallowed up by inertia and disappeared into the maw of the Puzzle Palace, until it was leaked to Hersh.

Salient to his current endeavor, Rothstein — an advocate for greater and better use of Special Forces in unconventional conflict — wrote this of the kind of special warfare he had in mind for Afghanistan:

Unorthodox thinking, drawing on a thorough understanding of war, demography, human nature, culture and technology are part of this mental approach … Special Forces soldiers must be diplomats, doctors, spies, cultural anthropologists, and good friends — all before their primary work comes into play.

How does this business of “unorthodox thinking” and special warfare relate to gangs?  Mayor Donohue and the Postgraduate School’s spokespersons make it clear that the project is in its formative stages — but is expected to produce different perspectives on a problem that, frankly, has proven resistant to the current approach of being dumped into the laps of “law enforcement,” writ narrowly.  What is being sought is a broader, more informed, more “holistic” approach.  Warfare in Rothstein’s view is not just about bang-bang.

This business of unorthodox thinking (the bigger the better) is precisely what is needed — not just in Salinas, but nationally.  In several years of interviewing cops, prosecutors, federal agents, and Justice Department lawyers, I never talked to a single one who did not acknowledge that — as important as gang-busting is — in the long run it is impossible to “arrest our way out” of a problem that implicates virtually every one of the most vexing of our social, political, and economic problems.

We can pay now or pay later, but if we continue to roll along as we are now, new gangsters will be minted faster than we can take old ones off the streets — in spite of the valiant efforts of state, local, and federal law enforcement.  That is just a fact of life.  (Go here for the story of one man’s flight from California to escape gang rot, only to find it spreading to Utah.)

Some will perhaps protest that this is “militarization.”  Some will find applying counter-terror and counterinsurgency thinking to gangs to be “unorthodox” in the extreme– especially many among any who don’t yet grasp the reality of the transnational criminal violence machines that the larger of today’s gangs have become.  But there is a developing line of thought connecting the dots between gangs and warfare (broadly defined) among more thoughtful and better informed thinkers.  Moreover, to repeat the point, “warfare” does not have to be all about shooting — it may be about a local form of “nation building,” as in education, social services, and economic opportunity.

One of the seminal essays in this general area was Street Gangs: The New Urban Insurgency, by Max G. Manwaring, another retired Army colonel and Professor of Military Strategy at the U.S. Army War College, published in March 2005.  Manwaring further developed his theme in  A Contemporary Challenge To State Sovereignty: Gangs And Other Illicit Transnational Criminal Organizations In Central America, El Salvador, Mexico, Jamaica, And Brazil.

In Street Gangs, Manwaring discussed the evolution of gangs from the “first generation” barrio-based agglomerations that many observers still romanticize to the transnational “third generation” gangs affiliated with organized criminal groups, well-armed, and in it for territory and money.  (See this Congressional Research Service report also for a discussion of gang “generations” and the meaning of “transnational” gangs.) The essays are worth reading, but the following paragraphs sum up a point that Fairly Civil has been hammering at about the role of gangs in the drug war in Mexico:

The annual net profit from gang-related activities is estimated to be in the billions of dollars. The precise numbers are not important. But the enormity of the amount of money involved is important, together with the additional benefits these financial resources can generate when linked to utter ruthlessness of purpose and no moral or legal constraints. In this connection, a third generation gang can afford the best talent-whether accountants, computer specialists,extortionists, or murderers-and the best equipment and technologies. With such extensive resources, a gang can bribe government officials, hire thugs to intimidate those who cannot be bought, and kill those who cannot be intimidated. Bottomless pockets mean that gangs can move, shift, diversify, and promote operations at will-and, most significantly, they can outspend virtually any legal political jurisdiction. Consequently, a gang can establish acceptance, credibility, and de facto legitimacy within and among the sovereign states where its general organization operates.

In short, the gang phenomenon represents a triple threat to the authority of a given government and to those of its neighbors. First, through murder, kidnapping, intimidation, corruption, and other means of coercion, these violent nonstate actors undermine the ability of a government to perform its legitimizing functions. Second, by violently imposing their will over the elected officials of the state, these actors compromise the legitimate exercise of state authority. Third, by taking control of portions of the national territory (including the borders), the various components of the gang phenomenon are directly performing the tasks of government and acting as states within a state.

It’s perhaps easier to think of these grim processes of gang dominance and failed statehood as happening in Mexico or El Salvador rather than in the United States.  But there are neighborhoods —  and in addition to geographical neighborhoods, zones of enterprise from sidewalk taco stands in Los Angeles to drug trafficking everywhere — wherein the writ of the gang has supplanted the writ of the legitimate government.  And, by the way, exactly who or what entity controls our borders when it comes to illicit traffic in drugs, guns, human beings, and the cash derived from such criminal enterprises?

What is the solution?  Here is an overview from Manwaring’s second monograph:

The power to deal with these kinds of threats is not hard combat firepower or even more benign power. It involves soft, multidimensional, multilevel, multilateral, political, psychological, moral, informational, economic, and social efforts, as well as police and military activities that can be brought to bear holistically on the causes and consequences, as
well as the perpetrators of violence. Ultimately, then, success in contemporary unconventional conflict comes as a result of a unified effort to apply the full human and physical resources of the nation-state and its international allies to achieve the individual and collective well-being that can lead to sustained societal peace.

Complex.  Yes, it would be alarmist to say that things are as bad here as they are in, say, Mexico.

Unless, of course, one has the misfortune to live in one of those neighborhoods where a single hard stare from a gangster is enough to keep the residents in line, mouths shut.

“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “

—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 437 other followers

%d bloggers like this: