Plan Afghanistan

Drug Policy Briefing Nr. 10
January 2005

In November 2004 an unknown mystery plane sprayed opium poppy fields in eastern Afghanistan. Although the US denied any involvement, the US State Department is pressing for aggressive aerial eradiction campaigns to counter the booming opium economy. Due to policy controversies the State Department had to back off. At least for the time being. The spraying took place at a crucial moment in Afghanistan. While Karzai was elected as president on 5 November, some in the US administration were pressing to step up US involvement in drug control. The new approach emerged from a high-level administration review in the summer of 2004 of US operations in Afghanistan. The review acknowledged the seriousness of the drug problem and the ineffective past measures to confront it.

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In the first week of November 2004, in the Khogiani and Shinwar Districts in eastern Nangarhar Province, an unidentified airplane flew back and forth spraying herbicides over opium poppy fields. The chemicals did not only destroy the poppy crop, but also ruined fruit and vegetables and affected the health of villagers and their livestock. A few days after the aerial spraying, locals informed the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) news agency that children had developed eye complaints and were suffering from diarrhoea, and some others had skin irritations. An eye witness from the village of Nakakhil in the Khogiani District told AIP two weeks later: “Children (...) still have a discharge in their eyes and have now developed white patches on their faces. The chemical has damaged wheat, tomato plants and other crops.” He added, “people do not eat the surviving vegetables since they are afraid that they all might have been affected. People still do not drink water from the village wells and bring clean water on animals’ backs from remote areas.” The Afghan Transitional Government dispatched a delegation to investigate the matter.

Note: The spraying in November 2004 was a so-called "dry run". U.S.-contracted aircraft secretly sprayed harmless plastic granules over poppy fields in Afghanistan to gauge public reaction to using herbicides to kill the opium poppies, according to an article in The Seattle Times (Outcry against poisoning Afghanistan poppies, The Seattle Times, October 26, 2007)