McCaffrey’s Poppy Eradication Conflict

MSNBC, as part of their 100 days of Obama spectacular, invited NBC war correspondent Richard Engel to join Tamron Hall in anchoring the morning’s coverage.

Just after 11 AM, Engel conducted an interview with MSNBC military analyst Barry McCaffrey, the retired army general whose many conflicts of interest have been analyzed by David Barstow’s now-Pulitzer Prize winning reporting for The New York Times. The discussion opened with a question on the government’s efforts towards poppy eradication in Afghanistan.

Engel: I wanted to ask you about that idea of going after the opium trade. It sounds like a good idea. Is it possible and can we really draw away the Taliban’s source of funding by cutting down the opium crop or burning it or whatever were going to do eradicate it?

McCaffrey: Well, I think it’s at the heart of the problem. You’re seeing, as you know, Richard, hundreds of Taliban that emerged from Pakistan sanctuaries some of them wearing REI camping gear, brand new sniper rifles, a lot of this is fueled by the drug trade. Nine thousand metric tons of opium, 4 billion dollars. And that’s really tearing apart an attempt to build a new democracy, a rule of law. It will affect the ability of the police to act in a non-corrupt manner. I think we’ve got to take it on. But, you know, the lead agent can’t be U.S. combat troops. It’s got to be Afghans chopping down opium poppy and Afghans working on roads and new ways of re-instituting the irrigation system, getting agriculture going. It cannot be a U.S. combat mission.

Neither Hall, Engel, nor McCaffrey made mention of DynCorp, a major military contractor that’s doing exactly that—training Afghans to eradicate poppies.

Nor did they mention that McCaffrey sits on DynCorp’s board, which according to federal contracting records, garnered contracts in 2008 and 2009 worth over $323 million dollars with the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, including its work in Afghanistan.

NBC spokesperson Allison Gollust was not immediately available for comment on whether or not the network was comfortable having McCaffrey comment of Afghani poppy eradication given his business interest.

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.