The Marines of Bravo Company’s 1st Platoon have been sleeping next to a field of poppies, while the troops in the 2nd Platoon hiit the heavy opium bulbs as they walk through the fields. Ironically, the Afghan laborers continue to scrape the plant’s resin smile and wave.
Last week, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit moved into southern Helmand province, the world’s largest opium poppy-growing region, sfilled with green fields of the illegal plants that produce the main ingredient of heroin. The Taliban derives up to $100 million a year from the harvest by taxing and charging farmers safety fees. That money will be used to go buy weapons for use against U.S., NATO and Afghan troops.
Contrary to what one might thing, the Marines are not destroying the plants at all, but rather they are reassuring the local farmers and villagers that the poppies won’t be harmed or eradicated. Commanding officers and strategists say the troops would alienate people and drive them to arm themselves if they eliminated the impoverished Afghans’ only source of income.
Many Marines in the field are confused by the policy, having come from a country whose policies are to hate drugs like Christians hate the Devil.