Michael's Dispatches

Narco-Poetry

28 Comments

2011-07-30-141259-1000Opium paste

15 September 2011
FOB Pasab, Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan
4-4 Cav, Task Force Spartan

Three 82mm rockets hit base this morning, causing two wounded, but that’s about it so far today other than some potshots off base.  Well, before I could finish this short dispatch there was an IED strike with about 120 pounds of explosives.  Our people are fine.  During the earlier rocket strike, at least one captain did a combat roll from his bed to the floor.  Such combat rolls are better done from a bottom bunk than from the top.  Many of the bases are so large that your chances of getting hit are trivial, but in the tiny bases where our people are more densely packed, your chances can be much higher.  FOB Pasab, where this is written, is a medium-sized base.   Casualties occur on base, but not many considering the number of people.

2011-07-30-142006-1000

Nearly all of the 4-4 Cav fighting occurs within a few miles of FOB Pasab.  During a mission many weeks ago, the Afghan Soldiers, or maybe it was our guys, found a bowl of opium paste at a family compound.  The opium has already been harvested and the poppy stalks have been cut down and are dry and hardened.  Farmers gather the crunchy brown stalks into piles out in the corn, and around the family compounds.  The marijuana and other plants that have replaced the poppy are lush and green still.

An Afghan Soldier piled up dried poppy stocks and plopped the silver bowl of opium paste on top.

2011-07-30-142228-1000

The event was more a case of spontaneous narco-poetry than a meaningful act.  (Burning the flowers’ child with the mothers’ stalks, as it were.)  Though poetic, the magnitude of the five minute episode during a two day combat mission during a ten year war is difficult to understate.  This fire, and a thousand like it, are only symbolic.  Task Force Spartan is working to reduce the 2012 opium crop in this area by using a combination of carrot and stick, but that’s a thought for later.  We’ll need to wait until 2012 to know if Task Force Spartan and their replacement are making progress against the opium down here.  TF Spartan clearly is making progress against the Taliban.  Nobody can miss that.

2011-07-30-141639-1000

Just next door to the burned opium, our people blew up something.  I have no idea what they blew up, but it was loud.

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A Soldier had lugged this IED robot during the mission but it broke.  Maybe he should have blown it up or burned it along with the opium.  He probably wanted to.

2011-07-30-144713-1000

This place is a monstrous ambush zone.  The enemy likes to hide bombs anywhere you can think of, such as in the walls.

2011-07-30-144619-1000

One second of inattention can mean short trip home.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Matt · 7 years ago
    The second to last picture reminds me of Tatooine.

    May the force be with you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mike · 7 years ago
    Tatooine (play /ˌtætuːˈiːn/) is a fictional planet and setting for many key scenes in the Star Wars saga, appearing in every Star Wars film except The Empire Strikes Back, although it is mentioned at the end of the movie. Since it is the home planet of Anakin Skywalker and Luke Skywalker, it is also one of the most iconic planets in the Star Wars universe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mike · 7 years ago
    Michael - great work as usual ! Can you tell us what brand of water filter CSM Cook was using? Might want to purchase some to donate to the troops!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Colin Ki · 7 years ago
    So, am I right to understand that they confiscated and burned a year's harvest, or was there fair compensation? What happens with the opium once it leaves Afghanistan is our domestic problem. If poppy farming is the best game for these poor dirt farmers, I can't see how going after it helps us to win the proverbial hearts and minds. At least we could just buy the crop ourselves and destroy it. It might be cheaper than what we lose trying to quash it...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    TheOldMan · 7 years ago
    Wouldn't it be simpler and cheaper for the USA to simply buy the entire opium crop? Offer the highest price. Clearly the Talis could use intimidation to force farmers to sell to them instead but I think it's worth a try.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Derek · 7 years ago
    Mike, the filter pictured looks like water filters made by MSR.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Pablo · 7 years ago
    Hi Michael,
    First off, thanks for all your efforts. First-rate as always.

    In the fifth picture (with the IED robot), is that an M-4 leaning against the wall with its muzzle in the dirt?

    I hope not. For 4-4 Cav's sake.

    Take care.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    S · 7 years ago
    Great work. I agree with all of the above sentiments about buying the drugs.
    We've turned common crops with an open market value equivalent to corn into gold. Our long term drug policies have done a great job of creating Afghanistan in Mexico.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Will C. · 7 years ago
    There are legit use for raw opium. If we officially bought it, it could be kept in legitimate drug manufacturing channels (opiates, morphine) and any excess destroyed under controlled conditions.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Will C. · 7 years ago
    [quote name="Pablo"]Hi Michael,
    First off, thanks for all your efforts. First-rate as always.

    In the fifth picture (with the IED robot), is that an M-4 leaning against the wall with its muzzle in the dirt?

    I hope not. For 4-4 Cav's sake.

    Take care.[/quote]

    Looks like a SAW, not an M4
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jim · 7 years ago
    [quote name="Will C."]There are legit use for raw opium. If we officially bought it, it could be kept in legitimate drug manufacturing channels (opiates, morphine) and any excess destroyed under controlled conditions.[/quote]
    Great idea. Might bring down some costs of pain killers.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Little Wolfe · 7 years ago
    I did a research paper on the Afghan opium trade that took me about 6 months. I've studied the international narcotics industry since adolescence, so I have a different perspective on it.

    Basically, I was surprised to learn that IMF officials and the head of the UN Office of Drugs & Crime openly stated that Afghan opium/heroin revenues are being used to bail out banks in the current economic crisis.

    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/KL16Df01.html

    It seems that ISAF needs to keep the main ring road in the country free and open so that the trade can continue. If you guys in theater might have heard, DynCorp lost the poppy eradication mission in late 2008.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Little Wolfe · 7 years ago
    I think combat arms soldiers should see at least a $50k, tax-free bonus per 6-month deployment to that hole. Let's just be honest with ourselves and charge what is deserved for the 11B's, Combat Engineers, SF, FO's, TAC-P's, and others who actually escape the Fobbit zone and take these kinds of risks.

    Some estimates I've seen that track British Pound, Euro, and underground dollar value for street heroin put it at $79.2 billion per year. The Afghan opium services the European, Russian, Middle Eastern, and Central Asian market demand.

    Heroin in the US comes from the SEA Golden Triangle, Mexico, and Colombia. Afghanistan has dwarfed the Golden Triangle after the Soviet-Afghan War of 1979-1989. 2007 was the world record year for production, after all our farm aid kicked in.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jenn Nicodls · 7 years ago
    hi! sooo glad I found this article w the like on Fox!! My baby brother is there. I really appreciate what you are doing in telling their story!!! LOVE OUR SOLDIERS!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Medicinal? · 7 years ago
    Turn a percentage of the total harvest into pharmaceutical grade morphine and sell it too the world. Dirt farmers continue to make a profit on planting and harvesting opium, Afgan gov't actually exports something to the global economy and makes some money, Taliban funding streams gets cut dramatically, and US Soldiers are not wasting time burning drugs....
  • This commment is unpublished.
    TDG · 7 years ago
    The SAW has a bipod; if the legs are folded forward rather than to the rear they may extend past the muzzle, keeping it off the ground.[quote name="Pablo"]In the fifth picture (with the IED robot), is that an M-4 leaning against the wall with its muzzle in the dirt?[/quote]
    [quote name="Pablo"]Hi Michael,
    First off, thanks for all your efforts. First-rate as always.

    In the fifth picture (with the IED robot), is that an M-4 leaning against the wall with its muzzle in the dirt?

    I hope not. For 4-4 Cav's sake.

    Take care.[/quote]
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Buck · 7 years ago
    Mike i have read many of your dispatches and am proud of the work that you do for the commmon soldier. However i have noticed that in some of the dispatches you talk about Military working dogs, you seem to discount there ability and usefulness? In your opinon do you think they are a force multiplyer OTW or do they hamper the mission? Have you spent any real time with a Team? or do you just happen upon them on the missions that you do? Thank you again for the reports and the work that you do.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Violette · 7 years ago
    I can understand now from" Little Wolfe's" analyse why the war is still going on ! !
    You could replace opium fields with carrots fields,only bunnies would hide in, and bowls of okra would have some color in it...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bryan · 7 years ago
    @Pablo, that appears to be a 249 with the bi-pod extended toward the muzzle end. And yes, muzzle down is the correct position (even in the dirt). That weapon probably has more dirt in the feed tray than will ever have in the muzzle from leaning against the wall. Just nice to see the conventional guys finally doing it right. 8)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    chet · 7 years ago
    Im not sure what burning the dried stalks of the poppy does. The opium is made from the latex in the plant, which is traditionally harvested from the seed pod. Small cuts are made early in the day on the pod and the latex is gathered in the evening. I understand that drug companies harvest the latex from the fresh stalk by putting it in a blender like contraption. My guess is that the farmers would eventually burn those dried stalks anyway and you saved them a chore.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jennifer · 7 years ago
    Hi, I have a question, this might sound ignorant but I have no idea, so I thought I would ask. Are you close enough to a PX /BX to use a gift card? I understand the need for cash and paypal is a great option. I was just thinking that if someone did want to send a care package, then perhaps a couple of gift cards to one of the base stores might be helpful?
    Thanks for everything you are doing. God bless
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brian · 7 years ago
    I recently read a book by ex-DEA about how Opium trade in Afghanistan finances Taliban and contributes big time to local economy. Is similar to the Cocaine crop in Bolivia and Colunbia. What do you offer to these folks as a substitute
    cash crop? Also ,according to this book local warlords and Taliban force these people to grow quotas of opium and the trucking companies that smuggle it thru Iran are also connected to Taliban or taxed by it. How hypocritical that Muslims may not use drugs as recreation but it is okay to grow and spread the misery and slavery of drugs to non-Muslims...this is God'd Will? Gimme a break!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bob · 7 years ago
    [quote name="chet"]Im not sure what burning the dried stalks of the poppy does..... My guess is that the farmers would eventually burn those dried stalks anyway and you saved them a chore.[/quote]

    It's mostly for the convenience fuel for the fire, any source of fire fodder is a valuable commodity.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Wayne Philpot · 7 years ago
    Mr. Yon, looks like a new nugget to add to the many that you've made us aware of: ladders, britches, and now water filters. Your eye for seemingly small details has a huge impact on the day to day convenience, or lack thereof, for our warriors slogging through the peanut butter and in the walls. Please publish exactly which water filters are the go-to brand for the troops who will have to carry them - it's care package time... Keep your head down, sir, and keep up the greatness...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    sinanju · 7 years ago
    Tatouine is the name of a town in Tunisia in the area where Lucas did his filming. That's where he got the name.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    sinanju · 7 years ago
    I recall reading a few recent articles that state heroin has now become a horrific scourge in many parts of Afghanistan. Whole villages slowly drugging themselves to death. Muslim or otherwise.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bill · 7 years ago
    Michael, the Taliban eradicated 90+ percent of all opium production by 2001. How is it that under ISAF control opium production skyrocketed immediately after the invasion, indeed, headlines today claim opium production has increased another 62% this year over last. I remember seeing Geraldo Rivera in country interviewing a Marine Colonel for Fox news who stated flatly that the US forces actually ASSIST in opium production.

    I have two friends who are police officers who tell me heroin is again flooding onto the streets of the US.
    Do you know what's [I]really[/I] goin on?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dr. John in Kansas · 6 years ago
    Everyone. Thanks for your postings. They help me understand the situation surrounding our troops there.

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