Emmy-nominated journalist Peters exposes a particularly ugly bit of geopolitical blowback—the reconstitution, via Afghanistan’s opium crop, of the forces behind 9/11.
Formerly an ABC News reporter in Afghanistan, the author has delved deeply into that country’s forgotten corners, conducting in-depth research and an impressive range of interviews. After the Bush administration neglected Afghanistan in favor of war with Iraq, she writes, “It was the perfect soil for an insurgency and a criminal economy to take root and flourish.” The Pentagon, NATO and the international aid community all fumbled the drugs issues. Now, as a result, “UN officials estimate the Taliban and the smugglers they work with have stockpiled as much as 8,000 tons of opium—enough to supply the world’s heroin addicts for two years.” Peters argues that the Afghan insurgency has followed the pattern established by Columbia’s FARC: Drug profits increase the rebels’ arsenal and viciousness, and eventually protecting their drug business takes precedence over ideological purity. The same pattern is apparent in European terror cells—in 2004, the Madrid plotters financed their operation through the sale of Ecstasy and hashish. In Afghanistan, the situation is complicated by a reluctance to acknowledge the problem that long predates al-Qaeda, as confirmed by Peters’ interviews with CIA and DEA personnel who gingerly monitored the situation in the waning years of Soviet occupation, when no one wanted to admit the mujahideen were increasingly involved in trafficking. More recently, the opium trade has been central to the Taliban’s resurgence, as a smuggler acknowledged to Peters: “They bought low, they sold high.” The author quotes intelligence sources who worryingly claim that al-Qaeda operatives are accompanying large drug shipments in the Arabian Sea. She also provides valuable background, explaining the complex money-laundering methods used by these outlaws and identifying the largest smuggler in Southeast Asia (currently in American custody), who served as an intelligence source while doing business simultaneously with the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
An important reminder that “if you want to go after terrorists, you have to go after drugs.”