Posts Tagged ‘opium’
For the grey-bearded Afghan opium farmer, the sight of a large, red-headed white man running through his poppy field in traditional Afghan clothes was one of the strangest things he’d seen. For James Brett, a British entrepreneur with a penchant for adventure and an obsession with pomegranates, running into a field of opium in one of Afghanistan’s most lawless provinces felt completely natural.
“My translator kept telling me I’d get shot,” says Brett, his burly frame rocking with laughter. “It irritated me. I didn’t have time to worry about silly things like that. Bless the farmer: he looked more shocked than me.”
By the end of the bizarre encounter, Brett had persuaded the farmer to grow pomegranates instead of opium. He pulled out a white cardboard sign, scrawled the words “Pomegranate is the answer” on it in blue marker, and took a few photographs of himself and the bewildered farmer. He promised to return.
Those five minutes in the poppy field changed his life irreversibly, he says. If the eccentric Brit from Swindon has it his way, they will also change Afghanistan.
“It was a massive eye-opener,” Brett says, as he recalls the experience. “I realised that the people growing opium are oblivious to what it can do in our society. In the back of beyond of Afghanistan, people don’t have a clue.”
In 2007, Brett, a father of three, took the first step towards helping Afghan farmers plant pomegranate trees instead of opium. He launched the initiative Plant for Peace, originally calling it POM354, after his car numberplate, but changing the name soon afterwards. Out of that has grown a wildly ambitious scheme that aims to revive Afghanistan’s entire horticultural sector and, in the process, foster the peace and security that has so far eluded western powers fighting the Taliban since 2001. It’s an almighty task for one man to accomplish. But since its inception five years ago, Plant for Peace has won powerful backing: supporters include Lady Caroline Richards, the wife of the chief of the defence staff, General Sir David Richards, and the Marquess of Reading.
To raise cash for his plan and to encourage the food industry to buy Afghan products, Brett will produce a fruit bar made entirely from ingredients grown in Afghanistan, including pomegranates and mulberries (plus raisins and almonds). Working initially with a factory in Sunderland, he expects to launch the bar later this year.
Brett hopes the bar’s production will prove to other British companies that importing Afghan ingredients and investing in Afghanistan’s food sector is worthwhile, and that this will, in turn, lead to a future in which Afghanistan will once again export juice, fruit and nuts to a global market.
I met Brett on a sunny day at my house in Kabul. Read the rest of this entry »
The bullet tore into the British sniper’s hip and knocked him to the ground. Surrounded by Taliban fighters after being pinned down by heavy fire inside a mud compound for seven hours, British soldiers suffering from heat exhaustion dragged the wounded corporal from the rooftop and into an inner courtyard.
They bent him over a table, stuffing bandages and gauze into the wounds to stem the flow of blood.
Attack helicopters circling above the compound strafed the surrounding wheat fields with chain guns to prevent Taliban fighters from attacking the medical evacuation helicopter when it landed.
As the American helicopter came into sight, soldiers from A Company, 1st Battalion, The Rifles, staggered out of the compound carrying the sniper on a stretcher. Taliban bullets zipped overhead.
Lying inside the helicopter, the corporal apologised for “letting the team down”. High on morphine, he demanded his pistol to fend off the Taliban creeping through the fields around their position.
The company’s sergeant-major ejected the magazine from his pistol and cleared a round from the barrel, handing the empty weapon back to the wounded sniper. The corporal shouted above the din of rotor blades before the helicopter, still under fire, lifted him to safety.
The men of A Company had mounted an air assault into the village of Alikozai on May 18, swiftly becoming embroiled in a 12-hour gun battle with as many as 50 Taliban fighters, according to soldiers who took part.
Battles of this ferocity have dropped in number since US Marines took control of Helmand’s most violent districts last year, allowing the British to concentrate more troops in the centre of the province.
As a result, British forces have gradually begun to wrest territory from the Taliban, killing or capturing dozens of insurgent commanders.
David Cameron said on a visit to Afghanistan last week that the conflict had entered a new phase. Afghan security forces were increasingly capable of handling security in Helmand, the Prime Minister said. He pointed to Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, which is due to be formally handed over on July 20, as an example.
Having announced that 426 British troops would be withdrawn by next February, Cameron said a further 500 would depart by the end of next year.
British officials who say the war is being won on the ground believe victory will ultimately be defined by the extent to which the Afghan army and police protect territorial gains from Taliban incursion as they leave. They believe the progress of recent months can be sustained.
But while the Afghan army has been moulded into a force regarded by British officers as “superb in a firefight”, its reluctance to perform basic tasks such as planning operations is causing frustration.
“At the moment, without us cajoling, pushing or pleading, the Afghan army would sit on their arse and do f*** all,” said a British officer advising the Afghan army in Helmand.
As for the Afghan police, coalition officers remain concerned about recruitment, corruption and involvement in the opium trade.
So will security forces that still find it hard to feed and water their men crumble under Taliban pressure? Or will the “counterinsurgency savvy” Afghan soldiers keep them at bay? Read the rest of this entry »
Detectives are investigating a suspected heroin trafficking ring among British soldiers serving in Afghanistan.
The inquiry centres on British and Canadian troops based at Camp Bastion and Kandahar, the two main airports ferrying military personnel in and out of the country. Army chiefs are so concerned that they have ordered an increase in checks on troops returning from frontline duties.
This includes greater use of sniffer dogs, body and luggage searches and other covert monitoring at RAF Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire, the military airport from which up to 700 troops return each week.
The checks are so extensive that the Ministry of Defence this weekend issued an apology to its personnel for the inconvenience being caused. However, it also threatened that any troops found to be caught up in the trade would be subjected to the full rigours of criminal law. Read the rest of this entry »