|An opium poppy field in Afghanistan. Slit marks on the bulbs are where raw opium has been harvested.|
Thousands of additional Marines flooding into Afghanistan’s opium-growing interior won’t go after those growing the crops, the commander in the area said, according to Reuters.
“The reality we have to face right now is that the number one cash crop in this area is still the poppy,” said Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, who commands 10,000 Marines in opium center Helmand.
Nicholson said he didn’t want to “alienate” local farmers by targeting their opium poppies.
|Harvesting opium in Afghanistan|
The U.S. Marine presence in southern Afghanistan is scheduled to almost double over the next few months, the main element in the first wave of 30,000 reinforcements dispatched by President Obama this month.
The 4,100 metric tons of opium produced in Helmand are about 60 percent of Afghanistan’s output, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the heroin on Earth.
Nicholson said troops would go after opium processing plants and labs, but would leave the fields alone. “What we have been very careful not to do is make an enemy of the poppy farmer,” he said. “Creating (enemies of) 30,000 to 40,000 farmers, getting them angry at the government and the coalition, is probably not good for us.”