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Diplomacy in Action

Partners Against Crime: An Update on Counter Narcotics and Justice Efforts in Afghanistan

William R. Brownfield
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs

Washington, DC
February 6, 2014

Date: 02/06/2014 Location: Washington, DC Description: Ambassador William R. Brownfield, Assistant Sec. of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement briefs at the Washington Foreign Press Center on counter narcotics and justice efforts in Afghanistan - State Dept Image

10:00 A.M. EST


AMBASSADOR BROWNFIELD: I will offer a few comments and then I promise, after no more than three or four minutes, turn it over to you.

Ladies and gents, besides it being a pleasure to be with you here this morning, may I acknowledge that Afghanistan and drugs and counternarcotics has been very much in the media and a matter of focus by the international community over the last several months. There is logic in that. We all acknowledge that Afghanistan is in its year of transition, 2014, and it’s perfectly logical that the international community would ask on this issue, as on a number of others: Where are we as we enter into this transition year?

Besides my own trip to Afghanistan, which concluded last week – and it’s my third, I believe, over the last two years – I have also had the pleasure and the honor of doing two hearings before the United States Congress on this subject, Afghanistan drugs, one before the Senate Drug Caucus early in the first half of last month and the other before the House Foreign Affairs Committee just yesterday. And that, I think, suggests to me at least – I hope it does to you – that it’s a good time to review where we are on this matter in Afghanistan.

I went to Afghanistan with three objectives in mind. One was to determine and decide where our priorities and focus should be as we enter into 2014. Second, how to ensure or at least increase the probability that our programs, our strategy, our policy will be sustainable – it will carry us not just through 2014, but into the years beyond. And third and finally, how we can ensure effective programs and good monitoring given the realities that we will be dealing with in the post-2014 environment, and those realities include a number of variables: What will be the security situation on the ground? How many resources will be made available to us? How many personnel will be part of this effort? What will be the role of other partners in the international community? For that matter, what will be the nature of the Government of Afghanistan – a question that cannot be answered, obviously, until the results of the April elections are known and we have some sense as to who constitutes the Government of Afghanistan.

Three issues – I offer you snapshots of my three answers to those questions, and then turn it over to you. Our conclusion so far is that we will remain focused on three issues related to drugs and rule of law in Afghanistan beyond 2014. The first is counternarcotics – more on that in a second. The second is the justice sector and support for reform and professionalization of the justice sector. The third is corrections. That is to say a prison and detention center system that can be brought more into the 21st century in terms of how it detains and handles those people within the system itself.

On counternarcotics, our conclusion was, is, and remains, as we have learned over the last 40 years, that a drug program, to be effective, must address all elements of the drug problem, starting at one end with cultivation; processing through production, transit and transportation; the system of selling the product; and eventually the process by which proceeds are laundered through a financial system. To be effective, we have concluded our program must address alternative development, eradication, investigation, interdiction, prosecution, incarceration, and then the so-called soft-side programs of education, treatment, and rehabilitation.

The second question – which is to say how do we have a strategy and a policy that is sustainable – we will attempt to answer by having programs that are managed as much as is possible by the Government of Afghanistan itself and its own personnel, so that as our personnel numbers reduce – and they will reduce – we are still in a position to maintain a program.

The programs will be flexible in terms of how many dollars are made available to support them so that if more resources are available, they can ramp up. If fewer resources are available, they can be ratcheted back, that they are not dependent upon a specific and large sum of money in order to be effective. Our programs will be portable to the extent that they can be moved in response to changes on the part of the narcotics trafficking industry. In other words, if a focus shifts from Province A to Province B, we have a strategy we hope that will allow us to then shift our efforts to where the narcotics traffickers are actually operating.

And finally, we have a program which in our judgment allows us to successfully manage and monitor whether our total numbers of personnel on the ground remain the same, reduce a little bit, or even reduce dramatically, which finally brings me to the third issue that I was out there to work, and that is how do we monitor, oversee, and account for programs in a more constrained security environment with less transportation available to get out to project sites and fewer people to do it.

And our proposal, in essence, is two-part, and I think it is going to work. The first part is what we call tiered monitoring, where we take advantage of the personnel that we have available. The first choice is your own permanent personnel. Second choice would be perhaps your locally engaged staff. Third choice might be allied or partner nation personnel who might be available for this purpose. Fourth choice might be contractors who could serve the function of the role. Fifth choice, believe it or not, might be distinguished members of the media who will be getting around the country. In other words, the objective is to use the monitoring assets that are available and seek to get the best possible picture of what is happening out in the field, even if you cannot have personnel out there 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The second half of this monitoring challenge is to have programs that require performance before funds are actually transferred. In other words, if the exercise is the eradication, the program is governor-led eradication, and the way the program works is we will pay $250 for every hectare of opium poppy that is eradicated. Why is this easy to monitor and ensure that money is not misspent? Because we will not pay $250 to the governor of Province X until we have verified through our own systems that one hectare of opium poppy has been eradicated. No eradication, no $250. And ditto with our other programs.

The Food Zone Program involves us providing substantial alternative development in exchange for hitting certain objectives, whether those objectives are eradication or interdiction or arrests or investigation, and the same concept applies. The money flows once the actual acts have occurred in the field. This is our response to those who have suggested, with some caution, prudence, and even skepticism, that we cannot guarantee that our investments in counternarcotics in Afghanistan will in fact go for the purposes that they are designed and produce the results that we hope they will produce.

At the end of the day, ladies and gentlemen, I feel as optimistic about long-term results in Afghanistan as I might have felt in Colombia 10 years ago. I do not believe we are going to solve the drug problem or threat in Afghanistan in the course of the next year. I do believe we will have a program, a strategy, and a policy in place that is sustainable and will, in fact, permit the Government of Afghanistan to address and attack its drug problem for years to come. And my lesson learned over the last 20 years of involvement in the counternarcotics business is that these programs and strategies are long-term, require flexibility, and must address all elements of the problem.

I think we hit all three of those targets in Afghanistan. I’m done. Over to you.

MS. BROWN: Okay. We’ll open for questions.

QUESTION: If you don’t mind. My name is Lara Jakes. I work for the Associated Press. And just something that occurred to me when you were talking about personnel, and then I want to open it up to a larger question, maybe: When you talk about the personnel numbers coming down, to what extent is that dependent on the number of troops that will be left in the – on the ground or not in Afghanistan after 2014? I know you were talking about the ability to get out and to – the vehicles that might be available. I know some of that has been tied to military resources in the past or what the current practices are.

And then secondly, you walked in here, we were kind of kidding about what happened in Iraq. And so I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about making sure that that doesn’t also happen in Afghanistan going forward, and curious if you thought that the Iraq problem was a money issue. That’s what we talked about in Baghdad then, that Congress was about to cut the budget. Or was it the Government of Iraq, and if so, how you keep the Government of Afghanistan more focused than the Government of Iraq?

AMBASSADOR BROWNFIELD: Yeah. Both are fine questions, Lara. Let me work them in the order in which you laid them out.

First, numbers of personnel: The two times that I’ve testified on this matter before Congress over the last four weeks, I opened my presentation by saying to the members of Congress there are some variables out there that we do not know. We do not know what will be the final answer to these yet. We will eventually. One of those variables, quite frankly, is number of personnel that we will have in the field. That number in turn will be driven by a number of factors. One is the security situation. The security situation is driven by – to a considerable, but not exclusive extent – the military forces that are left behind in the post-2014 timeframe. But it’s not just amount of military. It’s also amount of lift that is available. My part of the Department of State, the INL Bureau, does in fact manage the aviation for the Department of State. I know what we will have available.

What I do not know, the variable is what additional from other sources – whether U.S. military, other militaries, other governments – will be available on the ground. We’re in the process of answering that question. I am quite confident that by the end of this year, the – we will have that answer. The one thing I am certain about, or at least extremely confident about, is that the total number of personnel that I will have on the ground in Afghanistan will be less than I had at the start of this year. That number is going down. I can’t tell you where the floor is. I can tell you that we are going in a downward direction, and I therefore have to build a policy, strategy, and set of programs that will work whether I have X number of people, X divided by two number of people, maybe even X divided by four number of people. But I am not doing my job if I have produced a strategy and a policy that requires a specific number of people if I’m not certain I’m going to have that number of people.

That’s the best answer I can give you on that right now. It’s even more complicated than that, as you know, because I also have to figure, how many platforms am I going to have? Will I be operating just from Kabul, or will I be operating from Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, and Kandahar, which is kind of the ultimate extreme? I have to have a program that is sufficiently flexible that allows me to be able to operate from just one platform or four platforms or three or two. I think we’re there, and that’s what I’ve tried to describe to you, something that I believe is sufficiently flexible and is managed sufficiently by Afghan Government personnel with our own oversight and evaluation that it should be sustainable under almost any realistic final outcome in terms of numbers, mobility, security, and transportation.

QUESTION: But is it fair to say that some of these decisions are on hold right now as questions about the BSA and NATO’s role are still unclear?

AMBASSADOR BROWNFIELD: I’m going to speak only from the drug perspective.

QUESTION: Right, which, if I understand it, is something like 80 percent of the embassy mission in – I don’t – somebody told me it was – INL was by far the largest bureau at the embassy.



AMBASSADOR BROWNFIELD: That sounds excessively high.

QUESTION: Okay. Don’t you wish, though? (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR BROWNFIELD: It is – it may be the largest single individual section in the embassy, but this is a very large embassy, and I can assure you our piece of it does not even remotely approach 80 percent of total embassy personnel. It is a large section. It is going to become a smaller section.

My answer to your question is: From my perspective, we’re not on hold, because that was the point of my visit. That – in a sense, that is – that’s what I’m trying to describe to you, how we have, in my opinion, put together a program, strategy, policy that is, in fact, in and of itself capable of adjusting to whatever the final outcome is, how many people we will have, how many dollars will made available to us, how much security we will have in the field, how many platforms we will have to operate from, how much transportation will be made available to us to allow us to get around the country. I think we have developed a strategy that will actually allow us, regardless of where those variables finally come down – and they will finally come down, as you know – will allow us to continue to work this program.

And I’m not even – I’m not saying this at all facetiously. The truth of the matter is I believe we’ve got a program that can – we can ratchet the numbers down, we can grow them very quickly because of the nature of the program we have put together. I am not speaking for anyone else, any other agency, any other section. They have a right, obviously, to speak for themselves. And some are in a different posture, undoubtedly, than are we. In my opinion, the American people pay me to produce a strategy and a policy that will work under any realistic set of circumstances that I will confront, that we will confront in the post-2014 timeframe. I think we have done that. If we haven’t, I expect to be held accountable for my failure in this regard, but not until 2015. I’m entitled to at least get through this year.

A repeat of Iraq – may I tell you, there is that old expression – I’m probably going to regret saying this, but I will say it to you in particular – fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. I did go through the Iraq experience. It was not, from my perspective, the INL perspective, particularly pleasant to have to take a very large program down to a very small program in a very short period of time. That’s one of the reasons why I have just described to you the steps we have taken, the effort that I am making to ensure that I have a counternarcotics program for Afghanistan that is sustainable and adjustable. I do not like having to fire hundreds of people because a program is suddenly going to be taken down to practically nothing, a 98.5 percent drop in funding over a matter of a couple of weeks. I do not wish to go through that experience again. I do not wish to put people in that situation again. And I am determined not to have the same thing happen once more.

What will funding – what funding will be made available to me? I have read bits and pieces – not all of the 1,500 pages, but those that seem most applicable to me – of the United States Congress’s Fiscal Year 2014 Appropriations Act, I guess it is now – it has been signed, so it is a matter of law. I have read the numbers that have been associated with the INL budget in the INCLE account. I have also read language in the bill which perhaps is not statutory, but nevertheless is instructive in terms of the position of the managers of the bill, in which they suggest that all foreign assistance programs for Afghanistan funded out of FY14 should be reduced to a level of about one half of where they have been.

We will work through this issue. Before this year is out, I will have a clearer sense of just how much funding is available to me and those who work with me in doing counternarcotics and drugs in Afghanistan. But I repeat for the third, and I promise last time, my intent is to have established a policy and a strategy that can adjust to these realities without having to do the savage surgery that I was required to do in Iraq in 2012. I am determined to do that because I believe doing that a second time is bad for Afghanistan, it’s bad for counternarcotics around the world, it’s bad for the United States of America, and I would be correctly criticized severely were I to develop a policy and a program that puts me in exactly the same situation should some of these variables that I just described play out in a bad way.

MS. BROWN: Our time is short, and I’d like to open the floor --


MS. BROWN: -- to some of the other journalists around the table. Do we have any more questions?

QUESTION: Absolutely. Sorry, my name is Lauri Tankler and I’m from the Estonian Public Broadcasting. To what extent is the relationship of – to what extent are these programs and the relationship to the Afghan law and the Afghan Government going to change after 2014, as in you were talking about corrections and all these things that are strictly law enforcement. What’s the relationship going to be there?

AMBASSADOR BROWNFIELD: First, from my side, and there are other parts of the United States Government and other parts of the international community that are – it’s a handsome set of braces, so I’m going to leave it on, even though I’m being videoed, I’m proud of my braces – other parts of the international community are addressing other issues. What we are addressing from our side is drugs, justice, corrections. One fourth pillar that has been out of this, and I do acknowledge it, is a major police training program that would have nationwide impact. This, ladies and gentlemen, is another of the lessons that I learned in Iraq two years ago, and that is: To be effective a police training program must be national in scope, must address thousands and thousands of members of the police community. And as a consequence, is extremely expensive. I do not have the resources for such a program. Therefore, I have reached the conclusion that police training, which we will continue to do but it will be done on a specialized and limited basis, tied to specific subject matters and specific areas of law enforcement.

I would expect drugs, justice, and corrections to continue in the post-2014 timeframe. Our justice program is very much focused on providing training and capacity building for prosecutors, judges, and courts, allowing them to professionalize both nationwide, in geographic regions, and in specific subject matter areas. For example, a program which we have now had underway for nearly six years called the Counter-Narcotics Justice Center is a program that is located in a facility in Kabul and there, in a task force setting, you have concentrated a group of investigators, a group of prosecutors, a group of courts and the judges who run them, and a small detention facility that prosecute all major drug crimes in Afghanistan. They’re doing a very good job.

Last year, they prosecuted more than 700 individuals, nearly that many cases – although some of the cases involved more than one individual. Their conviction rate is phenomenal. It is well in the high-90s, which is to say the investigators are producing a good, evidentiary package that the prosecutors are then able to present in court. And in the last year they have actually successfully brought down one major kingpin – so in other words, it’s not just minor and midlevel people – and one provincial police chief, which in Afghan terms, is a fairly senior person in their law enforcement community. That is an example of how justice sector reform, on the basis of a specific area, can perform. And we’re open to this suggestion for other areas whether it’s financial crime and money laundering, whether it’s corruption, whether it’s gender-based or vulnerable communities, violence, and crime victims, these are areas where some sort of specialized justice sector could make some degree of sense.

On corrections, we began our program six or seven years ago trying to lay in a great deal of infrastructure, and in fact, either constructed or facilitated in constructing and renovating a number of detention facilities. That is costly, and as we look at a more complicated security posture in the future, we are less likely to be able to do that sort of thing. If you cannot regularly get out and supervise a construction project, you’re probably not going to succeed. So on corrections, we have worked our self into a position now where we are doing more training and capacity building. We will complete those construction projects, which we have already begun or committed to, and we will do some renovation work. But at this point what we are working with is the people, as opposed to the buildings and the structures.

My own view is we have a – and I’m now saying it for the fourth time – a policy and a strategy that should be sustainable, regardless of what happens in 2014. And that is my objective, ladies and gentlemen. I am not suggesting to you that I have bold new initiatives. I am not suggesting to you that over the next 11 months we are going to have great breakthrough in each of these complicated issues. I am suggesting to you that we will have a strategy that is sustainable, that is realistic, and that gives the Afghan Government as much control over its own future and its own destiny as is possible.

MS. BROWN: I knew that the time was short, and it really, really is short, and I think we have time for one more question.

AMBASSADOR BROWNFIELD: Oh, two short ones.

MS. BROWN: Okay, two short ones.

QUESTION: Okay. Ambassador Brownfield, my name is Igor Dunaevskiy. I’m from Russian newspaper. I was working for years in Colombia when you were an ambassador (inaudible). And I wanted to --

AMBASSADOR BROWNFIELD: And we thought that was complicated, didn’t we?

QUESTION: That was, and that is what my question is about. Well, this anti-narcotics effort in Colombia was successful enough in terms of reducing the amount of coca produced in Colombia. It dropped (inaudible). But indirect or un-direct trade led it to an increase of coca producing in Peru and Bolivia. Don’t you think that – in Afghanistan, do you think – is there a possibility that this anti-narcotics support in Afghanistan could lead that this amount of heroin being produced in neighboring countries?

AMBASSADOR BROWNFIELD: Yep. All things are possible. There are currently four major heroin producing regions in the world. Nearly 80 percent of the world’s heroin is produced – actually, perhaps a bit more than 80 percent – is produced in Afghanistan. An estimated 10 percent is produced in Burma/Myanmar, and the remaining 10 percent or so is probably split between Mexico and Colombia in terms of opium poppy cultivation and heroin production.

Now, there’s nothing magical that prevents other countries from growing opium poppy and producing heroin. I would suggest to you that – and I’m going to be slightly assertive on this issue – those that suggest that really nothing real has been accomplished in Colombia, I do not accept that argument. For a Colombian – and for that matter, for a citizen of the United States of America – what has been accomplished is more than 60 percent reduction of coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia. That’s a real result for the 48 million citizens of Colombia. Consumption of cocaine in the United States is down nearly 45 percent. And by the way, there’s a direct relationship between the reduction in cocaine production in Colombia and the reduction in cocaine consumption in the United States. That, I think, is a long-term and, I hope, permanent result. And in fact, I hope the trend continues to extend.

Now, is there more coca cultivation in Bolivia and Peru? Yes, there is. Is it Colombia’s fault that there is more cultivation there? Does Colombia have some sacred obligation to permit coca cultivation and cocaine production so that other countries do not? No. The solution obviously is more cooperation with those countries that are producing more coca.

Is it the United States of America’s fault that because we are now consuming less cocaine, a good thing, that cocaine trafficking organizations are now seeking new markets elsewhere in the world – elsewhere in South America, elsewhere in Europe, even elsewhere in East Asia? No. I refuse to apologize. I am the AMBASSADOR of State for the United States of America. I am paid by the American people to reduce the amount of cocaine, heroin, or any other illicit and dangerous drug from entering the United States and becoming a health risk as well as a law enforcement challenge for the United States of America. I don’t want other nations to consume more drugs, but that is not my responsibility. It is my responsibility to attack the problem. And I believe we are doing that in Afghanistan.

May I go a step further? I actually believe we’re making progress. I believe 2014, however, is going to be the year in which the entire international community is going to have to make some decisions. Up until this point, we have had a large military presence, which has allowed an almost unilateral effort at counternarcotics in Afghanistan. I would estimate that my government has supported somewhere in the neighborhood of 85 percent of all counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan outside of the Afghan Government. I would estimate that the United States consumption of heroin, of Afghan heroin, is somewhere between 4 and 7 percent. In other words, somewhere between 93 and 96 percent of the heroin consumed in the United States of America comes from – largely it comes from Mexico and Colombia.

I say there is something non-sustainable in that. I am quite prepared to continue to do a robust and energetic effort to address the drug problem in Afghanistan. But I have to note the increasingly complicated argument for me to make to the American people and their elected representatives that we should be bearing the overwhelming majority of the burden for the effort, when in fact what we are consuming is small – is much less than what other nations are consuming. I am not looking for a fight. On the contrary, I’m looking for a good discussion in the course of this year and the next in terms of what government, what international organization can play what role in the process.

This is – this transition is more than simply a transition from ISAF to non-ISAF, more than a transition from not having a BSA to having a BSA or a transition from pre-election – April election to post-April election. It’s a transition in other ways as well, and this is one of them. How is the international community going to address the drug threat, the drug problem in Afghanistan in the post-2014 timeframe? I’m ready for that discussion. And in fact, given who I’m talking to right now, may I say, the Government of the Russian Federation has been pretty clear that they want this to be a priority during this year of Russian presidency of the G8 process, and have said drugs is going to be one of the signature issues of this year’s G8. I think that’s a good idea. And it’s not just Afghanistan, but I think it’s a good idea for us to begin to focus some attention on this as well.

My message is: I am committed, I have a strategy, I have a policy. I believe I will be given sufficient resources to continue an ambitious, an energetic, and a sustainable strategy and policy in Afghanistan. But the United States Government cannot do it alone, particularly in the post-2014 timeframe. And we would welcome a dialogue with other governments in terms of how we can be more collective, coordinated, and cooperative as we address the issue of drugs in Afghanistan.

MS. BROWN: I think that’s the point that we have to end. We are now off the record. Thank you all for coming.


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