Observations from Afghanistan
To see photos from my trip to Afghanistan, click here
In addition to personally thanking our troops, on this, my fourth trip to the region, I had the opportunity to meet with General David Petraeus only hours after he assumed leadership of the war effort in Afghanistan. Hearing personally the views of General Petraeus, President Karzai, our U.S. Ambassador and other key leaders in the region gave me an important perspective on the status of our efforts there, and critical observations on what our goals must be.
Throughout the trip, it became increasingly clear that the many organizations operating on the ground in Afghanistan must do a better job of coordinating and working together towards the common goal of a safe and secure Afghanistan. We must prepare the Afghans to take responsibility for their own security, and adapt a counter-insurgency strategy in which Afghan people have trust in their local government and rule of law. Safety and security must be established through building native capacity, training local Afghan security forces. Corruption of the Afghan government must also be addressed if we are to succeed in establishing a long-term path to economic self-reliance. These goals can only be accomplished through interagency cooperation among a number of civilian agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations, and local Afghans.
Second, the Taliban’s financial resources, specifically through the opium trade, must be cut off. Afghanistan raw opium is responsible for 90 percent of worldwide heroin production and is the main funding source for the Taliban insurgency. In fact, according to General Petraeus, sources estimate approximately 30 percent of the insurgency is funded from drug profits. Disruption of this drug trade will substantially reduce our enemies’ ability to fund attacks against our troops and other terrorist activities. With cooperation between Afghan and international forces slowly improving, opium seizures in Afghanistan were the highest ever last year according to the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the UN projects that opium production could drop again in 2010.
This progress needs to continue. Afghan President Karzai requested additional data and reports based on information I presented during our discussions that I hope will help him and his government re-focus their efforts to halt this crucial stream of funding to our enemy. I will continue my efforts to ensure our counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan remain a priority.
Most importantly, I had the opportunity to speak to and have lunch with some outstanding soldiers from Ohio. They asked me to share with you how important the support they receive from back home is to their morale. I delivered cards and letters of support to the soldiers from the Primrose School of Centerville, and the Dayton Dragons demonstrated community support for our troops with great hometown T-shirts. Our troops make a difference in our world every day, and the support they receive every day from our community makes a world of difference to our troops.
The conflict in Afghanistan is extremely challenging, but I am hopeful that we can make significant progress through better coordination of our efforts with the efforts of other agencies on the ground, and by focusing like a laser on disrupting the opium trade. I am confident that we can never do enough to acknowledge the sacrifice and courage of our troops and their families, and demonstrating our support of these patriotic heroes.
As always, you can follow everything I am working on in Washington through my Facebook page at Mike Turner on Facebook.