The Washington Times
By Andre Hollis
Published January 14, 2004
Global terrorism and international drug
trafficking are partners. If we are to win the war against the
terrorists, we must also win the war against the drug lords.
The most recent United Nations report on drug production in
Afghanistan concluded that opium production generated $2.3 billion in
2003. This report also acknowledged that al Qaeda and the Taliban
generate revenue from Afghan drug production. It is clear from these and
other field reports that the resurgence of terrorism in Afghanistan and,
indeed, in other parts of the world, is at least partly funded from
illegal drug trafficking. If the international community fails to
adequately address this narco-terrorist threat, democracy and stability
in Afghanistan will fail and the threat of narco-terrorism likely will
When coalition forces in Afghanistan discover arms caches, they
often find indications of drug trafficking, such as opium stores, safe
houses, and information that reflects the methods by which drugs and
terrorists move in and out of Afghanistan.
A conservative assumption that the terrorists take 10 percent of the
Afghan drug profits means they generated at least $200 million in 2003
from drug trafficking alone. Despite their defeat on the battlefield,
the terrorists continue generating revenue to fuel their worldwide
The relationship between Afghan drug trafficking and terrorism is
real and growing. A tenet of the war on terror is understanding that the
international community must combat the terrorists' ability to generate
revenue to fund their operations, logistics, travel and weapons
procurement. So long as they are able to freely generate these funds,
their efforts to buy weapons, information, logistical support and,
perhaps, weapons of mass destruction will remain unhindered. Ominously,
other terrorist groups, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,
Jemaah Islamiah and state actors such as North Korea are learning drug
trafficking provides large amounts of cash for other nefarious purposes.
Terrorists generate revenue from drug trafficking with frightening
ease. In Afghanistan, for example, they generate revenue by "taxing"
farmers and local officials a percentage of the revenue from opium
production. Additional revenue comes from taxing the transportation or
processing of the opium or, alternatively, providing transportation for
The routes by which the traffickers move drugs throughout
Afghanistan are similar, and sometimes, identical, to the routes by
which terrorists move and operate. Historically, Afghan-produced opium
was transported to Europe and Russia north through the Central Asian
states of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Additionally, drugs are moved east
through Iran and west through Pakistan. Proceeds are not deposited in
regulated financial institutions, but, rather, the informal "banks" al
Qaeda continues using to move its resources.
The tools the international community uses to combat drug
trafficking are identical to those needed to combat this terrorist
resurgence. For example, 11 nations work together in the Caribbean with
U.S. federal law enforcement agencies, the intelligence community and
the Defense Department to collect, analyze and disseminate information
on the clandestine movement of ships, planes and people possibly
This effort, led by the United States' Joint Interagency Task Force
South in Key West, Fla., includes a unique international cooperation.
Under this headquarters, nations pool resources ships, planes and law
enforcement, intelligence and military resources to locate suspect
shipments and interdict them for prosecution.
Likewise, collaboration between the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and
Thai military, police and intelligence forces has been remarkably
successful in combating the flow of drugs into Thailand and the rest of
A similar international effort to interdict drug, arms and other
clandestine movements in Afghanistan is possible. With training and
equipment, Afghan security forces can patrol areas of ungoverned space
within the country. These forces collect drug trafficking information
and send it to regional intelligence analysis centers, which transmit
the timely information to Afghan and/or international security forces
The British government assumed leadership for the international
effort to combat Afghan drug trafficking. Not only does Great Britain
suffer directly from the use of Afghan-produced opium, but Prime
Minister Tony Blair also recognized drug trafficking is an obstacle to
President Karzai's efforts to establish security throughout Afghanistan.
British efforts include training and equipping Afghan security
forces to combat drug trafficking. Obviously, those skills are equally
useful for combatting terrorists.
The Bush administration should be commended for supporting Afghan
and British efforts to combat this narco-terrorist threat. As part of
the Iraq-Afghanistan supplemental, the administration requested and
received $243 million for the Departments of State and Defense to train
and equip selected Afghan Police and Army personnel. These personnel are
to collect, analyze and disseminate information and combat the
Just as importantly, these forces can likewise detect, monitor and
interdict the movement of arms and terrorists. International forces in
Afghanistan, including those of the United States, must be willing to
act upon this information, however, for this investment to bear fruit.
Stability and establishment of the rule of law are prerequisites for
social development in Afghanistan. The need to establish this type of
security before the international community can begin substantive
development cannot be overstated. Alternative development, no matter how
promising, cannot work so long as the symbols of sovereignty -- police,
courts, military and the rule of law -- do not exist. Without security,
people will not cooperate with alternative development efforts. The
narco-terrorists will be free to retaliate against the nongovernmental
organization personnel who attempt to improve life in the countryside.
A prime example of security leading to development is taking place
in Colombia. U.S. and international efforts to promote alternative
livelihoods in Colombia are generating success as a result of the
improved security provided by the Colombian government. U.S. Agency for
International Development efforts to convince Colombian farmers not to
grow cocoa worked only when there was a cost to noncompliance -- the
enforcement of law. As a result, for the first time, the U.N. and the
United States report Colombian cocoa production has fallen. The
decreased cocoa production and U.S.-backed efforts to increase Colombian
sovereignty have decreased the resources available to the narco-terrorists
in Colombia. The Colombian economy is growing and professionalism, and
respect for the rule of law has increased.
International efforts to assist Colombia and other countries are a
useful template for international assistance to Afghanistan. By
assisting Afghan government efforts to establish security through drug
trafficking interdiction, we help establish sovereignty and the rule of
law throughout Afghanistan and, indeed, the region. In addition,
counter-narco-terrorism efforts impede generation of significant
terrorist revenues to support their worldwide operations.
Andre Hollis is a Washington lawyer specializing in homeland
security issues. He was deputy assistant defense secretary for
counternarcotics from 2001 to 2003.
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