American commanders in Afghanistan are preparing a huge assault on the Taliban's opium-growing heartlands this summer, reports the New York Times. Taking out the opium crop is key to NATO strategy, and commanders expect casualties on both sides will be high as the militants stand their ground to defend the poppy fields that fund their insurgency.
"Opium is their financial engine," noted one NATO commande. Some 20,000 US troops will join overwhelmed NATO forces in Helmand, Kandahar and Zabul this summer. But the military believes it will require more than simple force to take out the opium crop. The US military has set aside hundreds of millions of dollars for projects to win over wary locals by improving infrastructure and restoring the agricultural economy that once flourished in the region.