Up to a third of Afghanistan’s poppy harvest this spring? Dead. Killed by a mysterious disease wreaking havoc on the country’s primary source of income. The Taliban’s public relations strategy will say that the U.S. has introduced this disease to destroy the farmer’s crops, even though US forces have significantly decreased efforts against the poppy harvest. The Taliban PR machine is fast and efficient, and while the US and NATO investigate the cause of the blight, Afghan farmers are quick to lay blame.
This doesn’t bode well for public image.United Nations officials state that the disease is a natural occurrence. One of the major causes of the disease spreading so fast is the same that caused the Irish Potato Famine to be so widespread. Monoculture farming. Of course, the Taliban may see the price of raw opium skyrocket due to the lack of production. According to the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, prices have already boosted nearly 60%. The disease is expected to wipeout nearly 2500 tons of opium primarily in Helmand, Kandahar, and Oruzgun provinces.
If the Taliban propaganda effort is successful, along with the boost in opium prices, President Obama’s counterinsurgency plan in Afghanistan may suffer severely. With poppy farmers already being placated by the US letting them continue to produce, even the thought of a secret, mysterious disease campaign may be disastrous. The major rule of counterinsurgency is to befriend the people. We should know, the Marine Corps wrote the book on counterinsurgency, The Small Wars Manual.
It remains to be seen how exactly this crop disease will affect the war, though officials are confident it will not return next year. That’s when President Obama has planned to begin the withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan.