Both countries have isolated agricultural populations vulnerable to coercion by insurgents financed by narcotics trafficking. In Colombia, the world's largest producer of cocaine, the FARC turned to drug funding when support from fellow communists dried up with the collapse of the Soviet empire. Here in Afghanistan, the global leader in opium production, the radical-Islamist Taliban became drug-dependant after being driven from power in 2001 during the opening days of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Despite international efforts to cut foreign financial support for the Taliban and a crackdown on the movement's activities in Pakistan, the Taliban have derived newfound wealth from the heroin trade. A new U.N. report estimates that the Taliban reap as much as $70 million a year from the sale of precursor chemicals, taxes levied on opium farmers, "protection fees" for heroin processing laboratories and "product deliveries." Some U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials here believe Taliban drug revenues are more than twice that amount. They point out that the lucrative drug trade also has resulted in corruption on a massive scale within Afghanistan's national and provincial governments. This nexus of narcotics, crime and terror has prompted a dramatic change in allied strategy that provides new opportunities for success in Afghanistan.
Coalition commanders, cognizant of growing public discontent about the course of the war, are focusing on how opium is funding the Taliban and adversely affecting prospects for a successful counterinsurgency campaign. Gen. Stanley McChrystal has all but abandoned efforts to eradicate opium poppy cultivation because it was raising resentment against his troops and the Afghan government. Now coalition efforts have shifted to targeting drug kingpins -- and their connections to the Taliban.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.