Friday, July 10, 2009


Don’t shoot back!

Don’t pick the poppies!

And don’t bother the women and men in burqas!

These are the new rules of engagement for leathernecks in Afghanistan.

Sound incredible?

They’re true.

Welcome to the modern Marine Corps under Commander-in-Chief Barack Hussein Obama

On July 1, the U.S. military initiated Operation Khanjar or “Strike of the Sword,” an invasion of the Helmand Province by 4,000 Marines and 650 Afghan soldiers.

“Strike of the Sword” represents the first military operation to be ordered by President Obama.

The purpose of the campaign is to flush out Taliban operatives from southern Afghanistan in order to safeguard the re-election of Afghan President Hamid Karzai on August 20.

The military initiative is being conducted by the insistence of Kharzai, who fears that a strong Taliban presence will produce unfavorable results for him on election-day.

To accomplish this objective, President Obama remains determined to deploy 68,000 additional U.S. troops to southern Afghanistan within the next six weeks.

But the Marines, thanks to Mr. Obama, are conducting this mission with their hands tied.

The first order from America’s new commander is that the Marines must not return enemy fire for fear of killing an Afghan non-combatant.

ABC Correspondent Mike Boettcher, who is embedded with Golf Company, reports that the young Marines, when ambushed by Taliban forces with automatic weapons, were ordered to shoulder their rifles. Their command, Boettcher writes, warned them that “one civilian casualty could negate the No. 1 objective of this operation – - winning the trust and respect of the farmers of the Helmand River Valley.”

How are the Marines expected to win the trust and respect of the farmers?

By not disturbing the opium poppy fields which remain in full bloom.

The Marines of Bravo’s Company 1st Platoon sleep beside groves of poppies Troops of the 2nd Platoon walk through the fields on strict orders not to swat the heavy opium bulbs. The Afghan farmers and laborers, who are engaged in scraping the resin from the bulbs, smile and wave at the passing soldiers.

The Helmand province is the world’s largest cultivator of opium poppies – the crop used to make heroin.

Afghanistan grew 93 percent of the world’s poppy crop last year, with Helmand alone responsible for more than half of the opium production in the country, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Heroin, as it turns out, represents the only staple of the Afghan economy. The country manufactures no domestic products for exportation and the rocky terrain yields no cash crops – - except, of course, the poppies.

The poppies fuel the great jihad against the United States and the Western world. More than 3,500 tons of raw opium is gleaned from the poppy crops every year, producing annual revenues for the Taliban and al Qaeda that range from $5 billion to $16 billion.

Destroying the fields could very well put an end to terrorist activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But the Obama Administration remains intent upon protecting the poppies so that the Afghan farmers and local drug lords can reap the benefits of what purports to be a bumper crop.

Many Marines in the field are scratching their heads over the situation.

Jason Striuszko a journalist embedded with the U.S. Marines in Garmser, reports that many of the leathernecks are scratching their heads at the apparent contradictions — calling in airstrikes and artillery on the elusive Taliban while assuring farmers and drug lords that they will protect the poppies.

“Of course,” Striuszko says, “those fields will be harvested and some money likely used to help fuel the Taliban, and the Marines are thinking, essentially, ‘huh?’”

“It’s kind of weird. We’re coming over here to fight the Taliban. We see this. We know it’s bad. But at the same time we know it’s the only way locals can make money,” said 1st Lt. Adam Lynch, 27, of Barnstable, Mass.

Richard Holbrooke, the Obama Administration’s top envoy in Afghanistan, says that poppy eradication – for years a cornerstone of U.S. and U.N. anti-drug efforts in the country – has only resulted in driving Afghan farmers into the hands of the Taliban.

The new approach, Holbrooke maintains, will try to wean the farmers of the lucrative cash crop by giving them help to grow other produce, like wheat, corn and pomegranates.

Fat chance.

Most of the 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan operate in the east, where the poppy problem is not as great. But the 2,400-strong 24th Marines, have taken the field in this southern growing region during harvest season.

An expert on Afghanistan’s drug trade, Barnett Rubin, complained that the Marines are being put in such a situation by a “one-dimensional” military policy that fails to integrate political and economic considerations into long-range planning.

“All we hear is, not enough troops, send more troops,” said Rubin, a professor at New York University. “Then you send in troops with no capacity for assistance, no capacity for development, no capacity for aid, no capacity for governance.”

Staff Sgt. Jeremy Stover, whose platoon is sleeping beside a poppy crop planted in the interior courtyard of a mud-walled compound, said the Marines’ mission is to get rid of the “bad guys,” and “the locals aren’t the bad guys.”

“Poppy fields in Afghanistan are the cornfields of Ohio,” said Stover, 28, of Marion, Ohio. “When we got here they were asking us if it’s OK to harvest poppy and we said, ‘Yeah, just don’t use an AK-47.’”

And the third order from Commander Obama, who has never spent a day in uniform (not even as a Boy Scout), is that no enlisted man must ever question or detain, let alone stop and search, any Afghani in a burqa.

Even glancing at a Muslim woman, the young Marines are told, is a grievous offense in the Islamic world.

This order has resulted in Taliban militants escaping from the clutches of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade on July 8.

Members of the Brigade had managed to trap the Taliban fighters in a mud compound within the village of Khan Neshin, about 60 miles north of the Pakistani border.

With the help of a translator and a village elder, the Marines, under orders from their commanders, persuaded the trapped insurgents to free the women and children in their custody.

Within minutes, according Afghan Army Commander Mahaiddin Ghorr, thirty to forty figures in full burqas emerged from the mud – - some holding the hands of children – - and sauntered off into the hills.

When the Marines entered the compound an hour or so later, the place was empty.

The latest military operation has resulted in the relocation of Taliban fighters to the western and northern provinces.

This has prompted complaints from German and Italian commanders who now must deal with hundreds of enemy combatants.

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