US mercenaries spill blood over Afghan opium in today’s Independent (UK) [thanks, Sanho].

Hundreds of Afghan eradicators under the command of American private security contractors were going to head into the fields around the town and destroy the beautiful red and white blooms days before they could be harvested for their narcotic sap.

But instead of the peaceful, model operation that was promised as an example to demonstrate the Kabul government’s serious intentions, Maiwand and its surrounding villages exploded into violence in what could be a foretaste of resistance to Western-backed efforts to bring Afghanistan’s opium industry under control.

By the end of yesterday four government soldiers had been wounded by gunfire from farmers, American security contractors were said to be sheltering behind razor wire in a protected camp, and Afghan police and counter-narcotics forces had fought fierce battles which local people said left five dead. Plans to eradicate poppies were temporarily shelved in the area as political bigwigs shuttled to and fro trying to ease tensions and broker some kind of deal with the angry opium farmers.

Dense clouds of black smoke hung over the town from burning barricades, hundreds of shots rang out from gun battles, and American helicopter gunships flew low overhead. …

Maiwan was being targeted first for eradication because it was regarded as a relatively peaceful area with effective government control. The hard cases have yet to be tackled. …

“The farmers are angry with the Americans and the Kabul government,” said Ahmed Weil. “It is only the fields of the poor that are being destroyed, not the fields of the rich.” Afghans complain that wealthy warlords keep their stockpiles of opium while poor farmers are stopped from growing the crop or have their fields cut down.

Is there nobody in government who understands basic economics? Supply and demand? And what did you think would happen when you come in as foreigners and destroy the only livelihood that exists for poor farmers? What do you expect them to do? Get a job at McDonald’s?
Note: a separate article notes that the provincial governor is trying to make a “voluntary” program work (in what is one of the more bizarre uses of the word “volunary”)

Mashal said that if the farmers did not volunteer for eradication the police would resume the operation.
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