LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Calling Helmand province an opium-rich region may be putting it mildly. That single Afghan province produces most of the opium in the world. American officials are convinced that some of it finances the Taliban.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And that's been on the mind of the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal. He sat down with our colleague Renee Montagne to talk about the Taliban's link to drugs.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And it's a link, Steve, that according to a U.S. intelligence report out this week, provides the Taliban with $70 million a year. General McChrystal said breaking that link - and the seizure of opium Soraya just spoke about is a good example - is one goal of this ongoing campaign in southern Afghanistan.
General STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL (U.S. Commander, Afghanistan): If we look at the operations in Helmand, I want to make sure that it's not viewed as just a counter-narcotics operation, because it's not. That's a strategic river valley that's got a significant population center along it. It's also been key to the Taliban as an area in which they've had a significant amount of control.
So, our ability to go into Helmand will have some significant impact on the poppy production in that area by literally being astride it and offering farmers a chance to go to licit crops and also get them to market. And that, I believe, will be a significant indicator to the Afghan people there, but also Afghans everywhere of the inevitability that that's going to be successful. Although, I'll be honest, it will take time.
MONTAGNE: But part of the strategy is going after drug kingpins, honchos, who fund the Taliban. There's a list - and it's a capture-or-kill list. Get rid of these honchos. Forget the little guys. Forget the farmers.
Gen. MCCHRYSTAL: In the NATO-ISAF sense, those traffickers which have a nexus with the insurgency we think are providing funding, then we absolutely will target. We also target caches of opium and different things, and we found huge amounts of it this year.
And you're absolutely right. Going after the farmer is not the way to do this, because the farmer doesn't get rich in the deal. The farmer actually, if he can grow wheat and get it to market, he'll do fine. If he grows poppies, the reason he's done that is because he's been forced to or he got help to get that product to market when he couldn't get other licit crops to market.
MONTAGNE: I just have one question because this is a key to what happens here: Were these narco-traffickers to be caught, where are they to be tried and incarcerated if found guilty? Because in this country, in Afghanistan, it's widely demonstrated that the courts aren't up to this. How much of a chance do you have to bring these guys to justice even if you catch them?
Gen. MCCHRYSTAL: I think it's very important that do bring them to justice, and then we try to work with the legal system. And there have been some cases, you know, where there's been extradition of one or two people.
MONTAGNE: To America?
Gen. MCCHRYSTAL: Yeah.
MONTAGNE: And tried and…
Gen. MCCHRYSTAL: But I think inside Afghanistan, really, is where the development of the rule of law and the justice system needs the partnership of the international community to make that work better, because you're right. Just arresting someone isn't the entire process. It's the entire cycle of can we have a fair trial? Can we have appropriate incarceration or punishment and that sort of thing?
And so we're committed to supporting that process. Obviously, as military, we don't have a lead on it. We're committed to support on that.
MONTAGNE: That's General Stan McChrystal, the top commander of international and American forces here.
The U.S. government has already spent millions of dollars to create a special drug court in Afghanistan as a way of getting around the regular court system. Still, this past spring, Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, pardoned five men who'd been convicted in that new court of heroin smuggling. It was a particularly controversial move because the uncle of one of the men was a close political ally of Karzai.
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WERTHEIMER: This was the second part of our interview with General McChrystal. You'll find part one, as well as extensive coverage of the upcoming election in Afghanistan at the new npr.org.
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