Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois, a State Department political appointment in the first Bush administration, last week returned from his annual visit to Afghanistan. While accepting for now Karzai's ban on aerial eradication, Kirk is intent on improving the capabilities for knocking out heroin processing laboratories. That means immediate U.S. reinforcement of Afghan police with helicopters. Critics on Capitol Hill are alarmed by reports that the choppers will come from Israel -- an unsettling prospect in a Muslim country.
Rumsfeld, the strongest figure in the Bush Cabinet, wants to limit U.S. involvement in the Afghan drug war to avoid mission creep. What congressional delegations pick up on the ground in Afghanistan sometimes supports the defense secretary. U.S. officers in the field say they get more help from local farmers if they make clear they are after al Qaeda, not drugs. That begs the question of what happens if nobody goes after drugs.
At the same time, Rumsfeld is pressing for Defense Department control of police training in Afghanistan now handled by the State Department. While there is sentiment in Congress that State is not equipped for this work, the U.S. military's long record of training foreign police officers is not reassuring,
Kirk, a rare congressman with personal experience in this touchy area, is concerned. "If DOD [Department of Defense] takes over all police training," he told me, "there may be a U.S. uniform present for every police interrogation, and that's unfortunate."
The war on terrorism is difficult enough when not intertwined with the war on drugs and intense rivalries in the Bush administration. As one official put it to me, does there come a time when U.S. officials have had enough in Afghanistan and say: "I'm not going to risk American lives on a narco state"?