Thursday, December 19, 2019

Afghanistan Pt 1: US imperialism and the Indian Ocean smack track

Written by: (Contributed) on 20 December 2019

A recent Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) publication, Special Report, Ocean Horizons, contains a sub-section about the problem of drug trafficking from Afghanistan. Like much of the information in ASPI publications it is brief, highlighting a perceived problem, but totally lacking in sensible analysis and devoid of historical references to enable causal factors to be in focus.

In the recent case in question it has not been difficult to establish a reason for the pattern of behaviour; it clearly implicates US-led military. The political expedience of the past has come to haunt the present.

The ASPI, however, have no intention of pointing the finger of accusation and blame toward those responsible in Washington and the Pentagon and their ally flunkies and cronies in Canberra. The organisation, which has specialised in briefing papers for senior Canberra-based decision-makers, forms part of the same shadowy patronage systems converging upon the military-industrial complex. It is a lucrative business for the initiated; they would hardly want to bite the hands which feed them.

The sub-section of ASPI Special Report, Ocean Horizons, dealing with drug trafficking is a good example of the shock-horror type of briefing for poorly informed Canberra-based decision-makers. (1) The ASPI organisation regards itself as non-partisan and a defence and security policy think-tank; founded by the Australian government, it is part-funded by the Department of Defence. Its claim to fame is that the ASPI sees itself as a foremost strategic thinker providing expert analysis. It is doubtful, however, whether those Canberra-based decision-makers concerned would be better informed after reading the two pages of the publication dealing with the trafficking of heroin across the Indian Ocean from Afghanistan to transit hubs in east and southern Africa for further transportation to the developed countries. For such an important issue the brief nature of the sub-section would tend to reveal a rather indifferent approach to the problem.
A standard pattern of drug trafficking in recent times, for example, has included transportation being broken into strategic links in an attempt by criminals to throw off monitoring and surveillance of their operations. 

Due to the increased role of Australia as a southern hub for 'US interests' and the linkage of the Indian Ocean and the Asia-Pacific region into the Indo-Pacific for US military and security considerations, the problem would appear to have landed in the in-tray of Canberra-based decision-makers for their reference and consideration. The problem is now taking place inside their 'patch'. At no time, however, has the problem been linked to the direct role of the US-led military incursion and involvement in Afghanistan for nearly twenty years. But then, such formalities obviously exist outside the mind-set of the ASPI and those for whom their publications are directed. 

The US-led military forces invaded Afghanistan in early October, 2001, following the then Bush administration blaming those based in the country for the 9/11 outrages. While controversy still continues about the destruction of the World Trade Centre by those seemingly linked to al-Qaeda, the US-led forces took immediate military action and have still not provided answers to sensible questions. A couple of weeks is not a long time to arrange and organise such a huge military undertaking. Did US-led military planning to invade Afghanistan take place before 9/11?

Another question, which has continued to be met with official diplomatic silence, was about a plan for Afghanistan to become an energy bridge from the former Asian Republics of the Soviet Union rich in natural gas, across Pakistan with ready access to the Arabian Sea and India Ocean. The US was not particularly keen to pipe natural gas across the Russian Federation which was assessed as potentially problematic. There was also another important factor with the plan; many of those at the highest levels of the Bush administration also had strong links with oil and natural gas corporate bodies.

Operation Enduring Freedom, a US-led military operation, took place from 2001 to 2014, followed by Operation Freedom's Sentinel from 2015 to the present day. It was composed of a coalition of over forty countries including all NATO members.

The US and allied troop numbers stationed in Afghanistan were:

                                                   December 2001     - 2,500
                                                   March 2002           -  7,200
                                                   December 2002    -  9,700
                                                   December 2003     - 13,100
                                                   April 2004             -   20,300
                                                   December 2006     -  20,000 +
                                                   December 2007     -  25,000
                                                   May 2009              -   over 50,000
                                                   December 2009     -   67,000
                                                   August 2010          -   100,000
                                                   September 2012    -   77,000
                                                   December 2013     -   46,000
                                                   March 2014           -   34,000

then a slow reduction took place which has continued to the present day. (2)

Last year there were still 8,475 US troops based in the country, accompanied by over 7,000 from 38 other countries, including 300 Australians. (3)

Two important considerations have arisen.

US-led military involvement in Afghanistan has a long and clouded history, where clandestine and covert operations have accompanied official involvement. In the 1980s, for example, 'British Special Forces (SAS) were training Mujahideen in Afghanistan, as well as in secret camps in Scotland, and the SAS were largely taking orders from the CIA'. (4) The military planning was to dislodge the Soviet involvement in the country, which was regarded as a threat to traditional western hegemonic positions.

In the period 1986-1992, over 100,000 Islamic militants were trained in Pakistan 'in camps overseen by CIA and MI6, with the SAS British Special Forces training future al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters'. (5)

It was noted al-Qaeda was 'literally a data-base' of the 'computer file of thousands of Mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians'. (6) Al-Qaeda was basically an instrument of US-led intelligence services intended for use as 'intelligence assets'. (7)

Secondly, the fact Afghanistan had become as a major producer of opium poppies which can be used for the production of heroin was conveniently overlooked by US-led military planners. They had no wish to upset the war-lords they had created and required for their co-operation with military operations to control Afghanistan. It is no coincidence Afghanistan, therefore, overtook the Golden Triangle of Indo-China in the early 1990s as the bigger producer of heroin. It was the logical outcome of US-led military planning and all which that accompanied it. Major academic studies of the period have concluded 'the CIA’s protected covert action assets have included.....Afghan heroin manufacturers', and that US government officials supposedly monitoring drug trafficking were 'restrained by US national security imperatives and did almost nothing to slow Pakistan's booming heroin exports to America'. (8) 

Other examples of the same US-led policies include the rise of the Golden Triangle coinciding with increased US troop numbers in Vietnam and the cocaine trafficking as part of the Iran-Contra scandal to fund Contra forces following the Sandinistas establishing a revolutionary government in Nicaragua in 1979. There are numerous other examples. 

It is not particularly difficult to point the finger of accusation and blame toward those responsible for the increased heroin problem. During the period 2007-10, when the US-led troop numbers were at their largest in Afghanistan, western countries began to experience a flood of 'brown heroin', as opposed to the 'white-heroin' from the Golden Triangle. It hit Australia with a drop in street prices and increased fatal overdoes. A UN study, at the time, found opium production had already increased by 34 per cent to 8,200 metric tons. (9) 

Afghanistan continues to produce about 80 per cent of the global production of opium poppies, and in 2016 production surged. Those responsible for drug cultivation seized upon the opportunities opened with reduced troop numbers and an indifference from US-led government departments toward their criminal activities. Recent estimates suggest opium production has now hit a record high, following the areas of the country under cultivation increasing by 63 per cent in the period 2016-17 to 328,000 hectares and production increased by 87 per cent to 9,000 metric tons. (10)

Last year official US-led military estimates revealed about seventy per cent of Afghanistan was controlled by the Taliban and the US have been attempting to organise talks with the ruling administration in Kabul to end the war. Despite the prolonged US-led military involvement in the country official estimates have revealed there remains a 'precarious security situation'. (11) In nearly two decades the massive US-led military planning and operation has failed to achieve anything resembling a stabilisation and has, in reality, created a huge western drug problem existing beside a similar problem inside Afghanistan.

In December last year high-level diplomatic initiatives between the Trump administration and Afghani counterparts took place in the United Arab Emirates; later talks were hosted by Qatar in February this year. The US are desperate to leave Afghanistan before bigger problems arise. To date, however, the fighting still continues between rival war-lords who want control of the lucrative drug trade; it is set to escalate.

Part of the blame for the disgraceful state of affairs rests with Canberra-based decision-makers who have followed US-led military directives without even questioning the logical outcome. It has been interesting, therefore, to note their response to the issue of 'safe-injecting' rooms for intravenous heroin users from Canberra; it is as if senior decision-makers display a reckless indifference to the problem which they, in part, are responsible for creating. They would rather addicts die on the streets or inside premises where their bodies might remain, undetected, for weeks or months. Those on the receiving end of the drug trafficking, and the criminal syndicates which control the trade, can also therefore include senior decision-makers as part of the same problem, directly and indirectly.  

And those senior Canberra-based decision-makers and their ilk, now seek to hide behind ASPI briefing papers where the diplomatic silence surrounding their behaviour is deafening! Australian people deserve better than this.

We need an independent foreign policy!


1.     ASPI, Special Report, Ocean Horizons, Drug Trafficking, pp. 32-33.

2.     Your military timeline of US troops, A.P., 6 July 2016.

3.     Afghanistan, How Many Troops?, NATO, May 2018.

4.     The Imperial Anatomy of Al-Qaeda, Andrew Gavin Marshall, Global Research, Montreal, Canada, September 2010; NEXUS Magazine, October-November 2010, page 15.

5.     Ibid.

6.     Ibid., page 80.

7.     Ibid.

8.     The Politics of Heroin, CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, Alfred W. McCoy, (New York, 1991), pp. 491-92.

9.     Afghan heroin hits Melbourne streets, The Age (Melbourne), 7 March 2008, and, Australian addicts, ABC News, 8 February 2008.

10.   Afghanistan's opium production, Brookings, 21 November 2017.

11.   Ibid.

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