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Analysis: Washington’s War on Opium

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US airstrikes have returned to Afghanistan with renewed vigour in the past few months, but their targets have switched, from insurgent bases to opiate storage and processing facilities. At least 11 airstrikes have been conducted between the 3rd and 4th of April alone in the Western Afghan provinces of Farah and Nimroz. The total number of airstrikes within the first two months of 2018 has tripled when compared to 2017.

This is not, however, a simple return to a hard-line counter-narcotics approach. These airstrikes are destroying these facilities and those caught within, effectively killing local Afghans for alleged drug offences. Attempts by the Bush administration to authorize such strikes in 2008 had faced considerable opposition from NATO allies. The current US administration has clearly shifted its priorities.

Such escalation ignores the historical and recent background of the opium trade. The rise of Afghanistan as the world’s primary producer of opium, sometimes accounting for 90% of the global total, has roots on other failed drug wars. Specifically, on those of the 1970s and 1980s that led to increases in drug production along with a spread of production centres.

The official NATO line justifies such strikes as a “counter-revenue campaign”, aimed at separating Afghanistan’s main insurgency group, the Taliban, from its alleged main source of revenue. Current estimates by US forces in Afghanistan for opium based revenue for the Taliban are of roughly $200 million annually. New guidelines that allow military strikes to consider any person alleged to be involved in the provision of revenue to terrorists also results in US claims that none of these incidents have resulted in civilian casualties.

Such framing of the local context is problematic. Many of these facilities may simply be opium storage facilities rather than heroin processing labs. Even those labs, however, are likely to have considerable levels of locals participating in the process. While there is a reasonable argument to be made towards connections between such facilities and criminal networks, the link between such facilities and the larger insurgency movement is tenuous.

Even if every single one of these facilities are indeed heroin processing labs, Afghan opium expert David Mansfield insightfully summarizes the issues with relying on airstrikes. These labs can only have a negligible role on Taliban revenues, with US revenue estimates often grouping disparate criminal and insurgent networks. Opium market profits and revenues at the local level are also much lower than after value is added by other criminal smuggling networks which are unlikely to be affected by these airstrikes at all.

If one does accept the argument that such facilities have a non-negligible role in funding Taliban activities, one must wonder about the overall impact of the resulting death toll. Late 2017 saw 44 “drug smugglers” being killed as part of a concerted effort to target such facilities in Helmand province alone. Inflicting casualties on locals, particularly income-earning members of rural families, is likely to severely undercut any counterinsurgency efforts in that area. Such an approach becomes even harder to justify when alternative hard-line but less indiscriminate options are available. A raid in the Marja district in Helmand on the 14th of April 2018 exemplifies such options, where over 9 tons of opium poppy and 1.25 tons of heroin were seized. While such alternatives are considerably riskier for counterinsurgents to conduct, they keep local casualties to a minimum.

The fact is that there are no easy solutions to the currently vast opium market in Afghanistan. Typical suggested solutions are an amalgamation of economic development and agricultural revitalization. Unfortunately, programs meant to improve local agricultural production, such as improved irrigation networks and market access roads, often feed into increased opium production levels. Such solutions ignore the problematic approach at the core of counterinsurgency failures in Afghanistan, an insistence on treating problems in isolation of one another. The agricultural market, the opium trade, the insurgency are deeply interconnected dimensions of the country. In order to undertake successful state-building, policies meant to address any individual issue need to take these other ones into account. Otherwise, addressing them in isolation or simply failing to strike a balance in responding to them can be worse than useless, it can be actively counterproductive.

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British police warn social media users not to mock drug dealer’s receding hairline

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mock drug dealer’s receding hairline

Police in the UK have warned social media users not to make fun of the receding hairline of a wanted drug dealer whose mugshot they posted online.

Gwent Police last week used Facebook to ask members of the public to help locate drug dealer Jermaine Taylor, who was being recalled to jail after breaching the conditions of his release licence.

Alongside its appeal, the force posted an image of Taylor sporting a thinning head of hair styled in a peculiar fashion, which readers of Gwent Police’s Facebook profile proceeded to mock incessantly.

Before being taken down, the post appealing for information that might lead to the apprehension of the 21-year-old had attracted more than 10,000 Facebook “likes”, tens of thousands of comments and over 14,000 shares.

“Push his release date back further than his hairline, that should teach him,” one user wrote.

Another quipped: “What is it with prisoners released on licence, hair today gone tomorrow…”

The popularity of the post and mean nature of some of the comments posted beneath it prompted Gwent Police to issue a statement warning social media users they could face prosecution if they are nasty to people online.

“We’re really grateful to everyone who is assisting us in locating Jermaine Taylor, and we must admit a few of these comments have made us laugh,” the force said.

“However, when the line is crossed from being funny to abusive, we do have to make sure we are responsible and remind people to be careful about what they write on social media.

“If you say something about someone which is grossly offensive or is of an indecent, obscene or menacing character, then you could be investigated by the police.”

The statement attracted further light-hearted comments, with one Facebook user posting: “Can’t work out what’s thinner. This guy’s hair or Gwent Police’s skin?”

Numerous UK police forces have faced criticism over recent years for targeting internet trolls at a time when violent crime is rocketing across Britain.

In September last year, Chairman of the UK Police Federation John Apter told the Daily Telegraph that detectives in Britain are so busy dealing with trivial matters on the internet that they are unable to tackle real crime.

He spoke out just weeks after South Yorkshire Police encouraged people to report “non-crime hate incidents”, which it said “can include things like offensive or insulting comments, online, in person or in writing”.

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British drug gangs grooming children to deal for them with free fried chicken, committee is told

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British drug gangs grooming children

A UK Parliamentary committee has been told that drugs gangs across Britain are grooming children in fast food restaurants by buying them fried chicken and chips.

UK Parliament’s Youth Select Committee has been given written evidence relating to the activities of criminal “chicken shop gangs”, which target vulnerable children at fast food restaurants, especially those who have been excluded from school.

Over a period of time as short as just a week, senior members of county lines drugs gangs buy meals for their vulnerable victims at locations such as chicken restaurants, before forcing them to run drugs when the young people are unable to pay them back for their food.

The inner-city gangs, which groom young people before forcing them to travel to small towns and rural areas to sell illegal substances such as heroin and crack cocaine, are also said to be targeting children at centres to which they are sent after being expelled from mainstream education.

In written evidence to the committee, the Youth Justice Board of England and Wales said: “Some [young people] shared that their peers had been targeted by gangs outside of Pupil Referral Units (PRUs), as well as outside sports centres.

“They also said that sometimes children are recruited through an offer of food (referred to as chicken shop gangs) and they felt that schools could to do more to keep children in school as it could be a protective factor from gang involvement.”

Last month, campaigners in London launched an initiative intended to raise awareness of gangs grooming children in fast food restaurants.

Unveiling a poster campaign at the beginning of July, the London Grid for Learning said: “The principles are the same [as with any other type of grooming]; it doesn’t need to be an expensive pair of trainers – if a cousin of a friend or a friend of a friend is buying you fast food or small gifts, they might just be nice… or they may expect you to return the ‘debt’ you don’t know you are building up.

“This can [happen] faster than you think, even if you think ‘it wouldn’t happen to me’.”

Separately, a BBC investigation has revealed that county lines activity is behind a rise in drug crime in many small towns and villages across England and Wales at a time when similar offences are on the decline in many major city centres.

Back in February, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) revealed that county lines drugs gangs in Britain were making an annual profit of £500 million ($604 million).

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Packages of cocaine worth NZ$3 million found washed up on New Zealand beach

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packages of cocaine worth NZ$3 million

Police in New Zealand were called out after members of the public found packages that later turned out to contain cocaine worth an estimated NZ$3 million ($2 million) washed up on a beach in West Auckland.

Officers from New Zealand Police have now urged local residents who live close to Bethells Beach to hand in any similar packages should they come across them while walking close to the coastline.

According to reports from local media, the packages were caught up in netting and were encrusted with shells, suggesting they may have been at sea for some time.

A total of 19 packages of drugs were recovered, each of which was emblazoned with what has been described as being unusual markings.

After testing the contents of the packages and confirming they contained cocaine, police despatched a helicopter and several search teams to scour the area for more drugs.

In a statement, Detective Inspector Colin Parmenter of Waitematä Police said: “There is a small possibility that further packages may turn up on the beach and we ask any members of the public to contact us immediately if they do.

“Eagle helicopter will be in the area today conducting a search of the wider area and we will be sending regular patrols in the coming days to continue to check for further washed up items.”

Experts have suggested the drugs would have most likely originated from Peru or Colombia, where cocaine can be obtained for as little as $7,000 per kilo.

New Zealand website Stuff reports that the packages were discovered by a woman who was out walking her dog, which she claims was urinating over the drugs when her attention was drawn to them.

The woman said she doubted more drugs would be washed up on account of the fact that the packages she saw were all contained within a netted bag.

Separately, a New Zealand Police operation targeting organised crime gangs involved in the supply and distribution of methamphetamine has resulted in the arrest 10 people and the seizure of cash and assets estimated to be worth more than NZ$1 million.

Operation Maddale, a 10-month probe into methamphetamine trafficking and money laundering across the country, has so far seen the seizure of 20kgs of the drug with an estimated street value of more than NZ$12 million.

In a statement, Detective Inspector Greg Cramer, of New Zealand Police’s National Organised Crime Group, commented: “This drug has a devastating impact on our communities and affects countless Kiwi families.

“The seizure of 20kgs of methamphetamine will prevent significant further harm to those families.”

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