In 2004, U.S.-contracted aircraft sprayed harmless plastic granules over poppy fields in Afghanistan to gauge public reaction to using herbicides to kill the opium poppies that help fund the Taliban and Al-Qaida, McClatchy Newspapers reports. The granules ignited an outcry from poor farmers, tribal chiefs, and government officials up to President Hamid Karzai, who demanded to know if the spraying was part of a poppy eradication program. U.S officials denied knowledge of the program. Now the Bush administration is pressing Karzai to spray real herbicide against an expected record opium poppy crop, which is refined into heroin. There’s wide opposition – from Karzai and his government, NATO allies with troops in Afghanistan and even major parts of the U.S. government, including the Pentagon, the CIA and U.S. military commanders.
Afghanistan’s opium production is one of the biggest challenges confronting the United States in Afghanistan. Opponents fear that spraying would trigger a backlash against Karzai, who’s already politically weak, said U.S. and European officials, and deliver a propaganda bonanza to the Taliban. At the same time, a great percentage of the proceeds of opium poppy farming, if unchecked, will go to the Taliban. The officials who confirmed details of the 2004 spraying for the first time made no secret of their opposition to the program being contemplated.