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Gordon Campbell: SAS defence of Afghanistan’s drug barons

Gordon Campbell on the SAS defence of Afghanistan’s drug barons

A typical day at the office for the New Zealand forces in Afghanistan. On one hand, we passed the command of the Bamiyan provincial reconstruction team project over to our Afghan allies, while - on the other – our SAS forces “helped” Afghan forces to deal with a Taliban attack in Kabul that had just killed a top government aide, Jan Mohammed Khan.

What sort of chap was the late, unlamented Khan? Here’s the Google translation of a Dutch newspaper article from last year that criticizes Khan, a former governor of Orugzan province where the Dutch forces had been based. In 2006, the Dutch refused to work with him, because of his track record for bloodshed and corruption. Only after the recent withdrawal of the Dutch forces had Khan returned publicly to prominence. Forgive the stilted Google machine translation, but you’ll get the picture:

It must have been a painful moment for the last remaining Dutch advisors in Tarin Kowt [to see] the triumphant return of former governor Jan Mohammed Khan on December 13. The former warlord who was expelled by the Netherlands in 2006 because he would have blood on his hands - and [where] for four years the Dutch mission [in] Kabul [had] worked - first stepped off the plane and had his hand kissed by a respectful crowd. At a reception for two hundred men and a woman in the governor's building was "JMK," including a standing ovation from the top police boss…

Here’s the wider context on Khan:

Khan became governor of the Orugzan province in 2002. He was replaced by Maulavi Abdul Hakim Munib on March 18, 2006, at the request of the Dutch government, who led NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Oruzgan. The Dutch didn't want to cooperate with a man who had a reputation of long-standing corruption, involvement with drugs and incompetence. He then moved to Kabul, where he tried to counteract the NATO forces. Just before he left Khan sold all the Orugzan government material, including police cars, weapons and ammunition. When the Dutch left Oruzgan in end of 2010, Khan returned to Orugzan, where he was welcomed at the airport by hundreds of supporters…

Two points: we don’t seem to have the same qualms as the Dutch in putting the lives of our troops at stake in helping to defend warlords and former warlords, some of them reputed to have been leading figures in the Afghan and global opium and heroin trade. Secondly, the killing of Khan comes one week after the similar killing of Hamid Karzai’s powerful and unsavoury half brother, in Kandahar.

This strongly suggests that someone – and the Taliban are only one of the suspects – is acting to remove by force the leading figures in Afghanistan’s drug trafficking business. Should we be trying to stop them – and is it worth risking the lives of our troops to do so? Evidently, the Dutch didn’t think so. Why do we? Do we even have a policy on whether its worth risking Kiwi lives to defend opium trafficking warlords ?

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