Marines Tread Lightly in Opium Poppy Fields

Fighters ignore Afghan crop to avoid alienating locals
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 7, 2008 7:45 AM CDT
US Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit keep watch on a poppy field near the town of Garmser in Helmand Province of Afghanistan.   (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
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(Newser) – The US Marines have been battling the Taliban in the world's largest opium-growing region—and they're taking care not to damage the crop, the AP reports. Troops in Afghanistan are aware that the Taliban makes millions from the poppy harvest, but they also realize that destroying the locals' only source of income is likely to drive them into the arms of the militants.

The Marines are caught in a conundrum but figure that if they can take out the Taliban—and keep the Afghan people on their side—the government will eventually be able to help farmers earn a living without fueling the drug trade. “The locals aren’t the bad guys,” said one sergeant from Ohio. "Poppy fields in Afghanistan are the cornfields of Ohio."