A U.S.-led offensive that’s expected to start soon in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province will be a battle not only against the Taliban but also against an insurgent-backed narcotics trade that provides a livelihood for thousands of residents, McClatchy Newspapers report. Helmand produces more than half the world’s opium; Marjah, the town targeted, is its thriving drug capital. Residents say the Taliban promote and tax the opium business and ally with the drug lords who organize the distribution and export.
Although the operation is a military one, the greater test of the U.S.-led action will be a civilian campaign to show the people of Marjah there’s an alternative to poppy cultivation, heroin production and smuggling. If the military and civilian side can coordinate, it could set an example for other parts of the country. U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of the international military force in Afghanistan, said, “When the government re-establishes security, (the people) will have choices  on the crops they grow, they’ll have the ability to move that produce to appropriate markets, they won't be limited to narco-traffickers who can force them into” the narcotics trade.