The Obama administration reportedly had the chance to cripple the global heroin trade funding terrorism in war-torn Afghanistan, but it shelved the plan to advance a broader political agenda.
The administration, citing political concerns, shut down a plan to stop the spread of narcotics around the world, prevent Afghanistan’s emergence as a narco-state, and sever the critical revenue streams financing the deadly insurgency American troops are fighting and dying to end, Politico’s John Meyer reported Sunday.
The plan — Operation Reciprocity — was drafted by Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of Justice legal advisers, but the high-stakes strategy was strangled in its crib by the Obama administration’s deputy chief of mission in Kabul, Tina Kaidanow, to protect the administration’s strategic ambitions.
Kaidanow told Politico that there were serious concerns the plan would impact the White House’s Afghanistan strategy, including but not limited to the proposed drawdown of America’s military presence in the region. At the time Operation Reciprocity was just starting to gain momentum in the summer of 2013, the conflict in Afghanistan had already cost American taxpayers $686 billion, not to mention the more than 2,000 American lives sacrificed to the war. It appears the administration caved to the political pressure.
The plan’s architects argued that Operation Reciprocity was in line with the administration’s initiatives and crucial to securing a better future for Afghanistan.
“This was the most effective and sustainable tool we had for disrupting and dismantling Afghan drug trafficking organizations and separating them from the Taliban,” Michael Marsac, the DEA regional director for Southwest Asia who helped draft the plan with DOJ law enforcement adviser John Seaman, told reporters, adding that the plan to indict 26 Taliban commanders and allied drug lords and try them in U.S. courts — a strategy based on that used against guerrillas in Colombia — “lies dormant, buried in an obscure file room, all but forgotten.”
Operation Reciprocity’s designers argue that the plan was abandoned not only because the Obama administration feared it would impact plans for a withdrawal from Afghanistan, but also because it threatened engagement and peace talks with the Taliban, as well as negotiations for a prisoner swap that would ultimately see the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five senior terrorist leaders held in Guatanamo Bay.
There were also bureaucratic reasons for the shutdown, specifically chain-of-command and procedural errors.
The drug lords in the crosshairs were supporting Taliban forces and other regional extremists, as well as supplying more than 90 percent of the world’s heroin, which included heroin fueling an emerging opioid crisis in the U.S.
After the Operation Reciporcity agents were given the stand-down order in 2013, drug raids occurred infrequently, and the narcotics trade flourished. By 2015, Taliban forces, operating with increased funding, surpassed the Islamic State as the world’s deadliest terrorist organization. Poppy cultivation and heroin production are surging to record highs as extremists seize more territory and carry out terrorist attacks with greater frequency, Politico reports, citing Department of State statistics.
The Trump administration has made the targeting of Taliban revenue sources a priority, with American bombers even setting records for the number of bombs dropped on training and narcotics facilities.
But the architects of Operation Reciprocity are hoping the administration will pull the old plan out of the mothballs, dust it off, and put it into action as part of the administration’s evolving strategy in Afghanistan.