One of the most revealing things we learned this week about the war in Afghanistan came in a Los Angeles Times report headlined "Taliban Drug Proceeds Lower Than Thought."
We've been told again and again for years on end that the Taliban were running their operations off the opium trade, clearing as much as $400 million per year. Now, a Senate Foreign Relations Committee investigation says the proceeds are closer to $70 million.
But that's not the real news. The real news is what's missing: If our enemies aren't taking as much money as we thought to provide protection to the source of raw material for 90% of the world's heroin, then who is providing that protection?
Apparently, the answer is: our friends.
The Times goes on to say:
In one of its most disconcerting conclusions, the Senate report says the United States inadvertently contributed to the resurgent drug trade ... by backing warlords who derived income from the flow of illegal drugs. ... These warlords later traded on their stature as U.S. allies to take senior positions in the new Afghan government, laying the groundwork for the corrupt nexus between drugs and authority that pervades the power structure today.
The cost of this may well go beyond the effect on the heroin shipments.
When we sat down this week with Amin Tarzi, director of Middle East Studies at the Marine Corps University and a native Afghan, he said that the United States has lost credibility with the Afghan populace by allying itself with warlords who have been known across Afghanistan for many years as criminals. We have, he says, handed a golden issue to the Taliban. They first took power in the 1990's by charging that the existing government was corrupt. Now they can say it again.
(Steve Inskeep co-hosts Morning Edition. This is the first in a series of "recommended reading" posts we plan that highlight stories NPR hosts have heard, read or seen that they think are worth noting.)