A Marine walks among Afghan students just released from classes in Helmand. (U.S. Marine Corps / flickr)
Ten years into the war in Afghanistan, the United States and its coalition partners face a range of adversaries -- insurgent groups, narcotics-trafficking organizations, and criminal networks -- that have thrived on the erosion of the rule of law. As Washington determines the details of its future security partnership with Afghanistan, it must recognize that these threats are convergent and mutually reinforcing. None can be addressed in isolation. To be successful, any long-term American military and civilian presence in Afghanistan must focus principally on enabling Afghan leaders to expand the rule of law, curb corruption, and integrate military and law enforcement efforts.
In the years since the Afghan insurgency returned in force in 2006 -- having been initially stemmed by American troops in the years following the 2001 invasion -- the distinction between militant networks and illicit trafficking organizations has become increasingly blurred. The Quetta Shura Taliban, which had long profited from protecting and taxing poppy farmers, became directly involved in the more lucrative business of refining and trafficking narcotics in the Afghan south. Now, the drug trade delivers an estimated $200 million to the Taliban each year, much of which underwrites its military campaigns.
In eastern Afghanistan, meanwhile, the Haqqani network pursues a range of illicit activities to enrich its leaders and finance its operations. A vast criminal syndicate, the network is involved in gem and timber smuggling, kidnapping for ransom, taxing local communities in Afghanistan's southeastern provinces, and extorting protection fees from Afghan and international contracting companies. The Taliban and the Haqqani network's partnerships with local gangs, traffickers, and crooked officials also enable them to move weapons, IED components, and militants onto the battlefield, further fueling the fight in Afghanistan.
The "criminalization" of the Taliban and the Haqqani network has created several opportunities for the United States, its coalition partners, and the Afghan government to separate the groups from their sources of strength and better
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