New Afghan Strategy? Follow the Money, Avoid 'Mission Creep'
By Robert Weiner and Paulette Garthoff
(Originally published in The Miami Herald)
As President Obama and Secretary Gates complete their promised review of Afghanistan-Pakistan policy before the NATO summit in Germany and France during April 3-4, they must confront a hard reality: illegal money underwrites those bent on wreaking havoc on America.
The Taliban and al Qaeda have major conduits of financing that must be blocked, whether from the flourishing drug trade in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border areas or virulently anti-US elements in the Middle East. Dirty money exacerbates the already daunting challenge to our troops, including 3,500 from the Florida Army National Guard to be deployed to Afghanistan this summer.
Last weekend, President Obama said he is open to a strategy similar to the involvement of hostile groups in Iraq to foster peace -- “reaching out to people [in Afghanistan] that we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists, but who were willing to work with us.” This means payments in cold, hard cash to stop shooting and bombing, as we did in Iraq. We could be paying people who have other illegitimate sources of money and no loyalty to us.
Although 60 nations are likely involved in the money network, a few players dominate the financing of Islamic extremists. Elements within Saudi Arabia, including wealthy, religiously extreme donors to Islamic charities, have been major bankrollers of terror groups, according to the Treasury Department. Fifteen of the 19 original hijackers were Saudi citizens.
“Saudi Arabia remains the location where more money is going to the Taliban than any other place in the world,” asserted then Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey last year. Gen. Petraeus has said that Iran is also helping the Taliban, partly to counter the sway of its rival Saudi Arabia in Afghanistan.
The United States has tools it can use to cut off the funding. Under the 1999 Drug Kingpin Act we freeze individuals’ and organizations’ assets every year -- banks can be added to this list. The Administration’s proposed legislation to bar offshore havens for U.S. tax evaders should include banks’ agreement that they will refuse terror or drug money deposits or be placed on the lists of companies with whom the US and its citizens are barred from doing business.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner must stop institutions -- whether in Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, or other banking centers -- from engaging in activities inimical to US interests.
The money produced by the drug business must be a central focus of our new strategy in Afghanistan, which now produces 92 percent of the world’s opium and transits a third of it through Pakistan. Taliban/al Qaeda insurgents receive as much as $500 million a year from narcotics activity, according to UN and other estimates.“Al Qaeda supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe-haven along the Pakistani border," President Obama said in a statement February 17. Former Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani stated on January 2, “The narco-mafia state is now completely consolidated. A shadow government has taken over.”
Retired Four-Star General Barry McCaffrey assisted the Colombian government in developing a strategy to cut drug production in half. A similar strategy is sorely needed in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
We must also be concerned, as the President told a congressional meeting, about military “mission creep” in Afghanistan. Large DOD contractors like Halliburton will be seeking another “home” to hawk their wares as the U.S. leaves Iraq. Building another “sandbox” for the DOD to play in is not a sufficient reason to continue the fight.
So here’s the big question as we chart a new Afghan path: Do we want to join Russia, Britain, and many others in failed interventions in Afghanistan, or do we want to get it right this time -- focusing tightly on our interests by destroying the financial and drug underpinnings of past and future plots against America?Bob Weiner was spokesman for the White House National Drug Policy Office. Paulette Garthoff was a manager of analysis at the CIA and has worked on counternarcotics issues.