By Chuck Missler
US troops pulled out of major Iraqi cities on Monday, handing over responsibility for security to the US-trained Iraqi forces. The withdrawal was celebrated by parades and fireworks, but many in the US and Iraq wonder whether the Iraqi forces are ready to fight the insurgency on their own. In the meanwhile, Afghanistan faces another deeply rooted problem; the opium trade.
Iraq: Thousands of US soldiers left Baghdad and other Iraqi cities by Tuesday morning at midnight, officially pulling out by June 30th as outlined by the Status of Forces agreement signed last November. Tuesday was celebrated with a full military parade and declared "National Sovereignty Day," by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Maliki stood up for Iraq and encouraged his people saying,
"Those who think that Iraqis are unable to defend their country are committing a fatal mistake."U.S. Commanding General Ray Odierno told Fox News,
"The Iraqi people should be very proud of the dedication, progress, and sacrifice of the Iraqi security forces and the government of Iraq."The insurgents also celebrated the pullout with a car bombing in the northern city of Kirkuk. At least 20 people died and more were injured, in one of several acts of severe violence committed as the June 30th withdrawal date approached. The Iraqi people may celebrate the triumph of taking charge of their own country's security, but there is still fear that al-Qaida and remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baath party will take advantage of the US absence to overwhelm the Iraqi forces.
The US has handed the cities into the hands of the Iraqis, but US troops have not abandoned Iraq entirely. Some US soldiers will remain in order to advise and train Iraqi security forces. The Iraqi government still wants US forces to operate in rural areas and near the border for now. The June 30th pullout is the first of several steps to have US forces completely out of Iraq by the end of December 2011.
Afghanistan: In the meanwhile, the US is still battling the Taliban on several fronts in Afghanistan. There are more ways to fight the Taliban, though, than just bombs and guns. Afghanistan produces 93 percent of the world's opium supply, and the Taliban feeds off of money from the opium trade. The US and Britain have both supported the policy of eradication – going in and destroying the poppy crops that fuel the industry. However, the US has decided to change tactics, and is giving up on eradication. Instead, the US wants to encourage farmers to plant alternative crops.
Afghanistan's farmers grow the poppy out of necessity rather than desire. There is a lot of danger on the roads, and transporting crops to market can be a life-and-death situation. The men who purchase poppy crops, however, will come to a farmer's land and collect the crop there, keeping the farmer at home where he can keep his family protected. Most Afghanis are Muslims, and drugs like heroin are against their religion, but when it comes down to feeding their families, many see opium as their only real option.
The US has decided to change tactics and work on helping farmers choose to raise crops other than the poppy. The US formerly pumped money into eradication - destroying opium crops to prevent them from going into the market. It has become clear that this policy isn't working. There is massive corruption in the Afghani law enforcement, and too often those farmers who can pay to have their opium crops protected are passed over for eradication. The smaller, poorer farmers are getting their crops destroyed. The injustice and failure of democracy is pushing many people towards support of the Taliban. In the meanwhile, the Taliban isn't losing any money; they were still getting hundreds of millions of dollars from the opium trade.
Richard C. Holbrooke, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, spoke at a Group of Eight summit dedicated to Afghanistan, saying he sees eradication as "a waste of money." He said it "might destroy some acreage, but it didn't reduce the amount of money the Taliban got by one dollar".
"The farmers are not our enemy, they're just growing a crop to make a living. It's the drug system. So the US policy was driving people into the hands of the Taliban."The new policy will also include putting money into improving the rule of law in Afghanistan and interrupting the drug markets and drug convoys. The heroin that gets shipped into Russia, Europe and Asia from Afghanistan will kill about 100,000 people this year.
Car Bomb Ends Party Mood In Iraq - Times Online
4 Us Soldiers Killed During Iraq Cities Pullout - New York Post
US Completes Pullout of Combat Forces From Iraq Cities - Fox News
Britain To Continue Poppy Eradication In Afghanistan Despite US Reversal - Telegraph.co.uk
New Course for Antidrug Efforts in Afghanistan - The New York Times
U.S. Makes Big Shift In Afghanistan Drug Policy - AP