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Seeds of Terror: How Drugs, Thugs, and Crime Are Reshaping the Afghan War [Paperback]

Gretchen Peters
2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 27 2010 0312429630 978-0312429638 Second Edition, Fully Updated, With a New Introduction by the Author

Seeds of Terror is a groundbreaking triumph of reporting, a book that changed U.S. policy toward the Afghan heroin trade and the fight against terror. In it, Gretchen Peters exposes the deepening relationship between the Taliban and drug traffickers, and traces decades of America's failure to disrupt the opium production that helps fund extremism. The Taliban earns as much as half a billion dollars annually from drugs and crime, and Peters argues that disrupting this flow of dirty money will be critical to stabilizing Afghanistan. Based on hundreds of interviews with fighters, smugglers, and government officials, Seeds of Terror is the essential story of the narco-terror nexus behind America's widening war in Afghanistan.

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"Stunning . . . A must-read for all western policy makers and President Obama."--Ahmed Rashid, New York Times Bestselling author of Taliban and Descent into Chaos

"Seeds of Terror offers layer after layer of fascinating information about the deadly consequences of decades of disastrous policy decisions. This is a well-written, well-documented, and exemplary work of journalism."--Lewis Perdue, Barron's

"Meticulously researched."--The Sunday Times (London)

"Excellent … Gretchen Peters's disturbing book plainly states that unless the opium-smuggling industry is put out of business, the nation-building exercise in Afghanistan is destined for failure. We should heed her warnings."--Emran Qureshi, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

"Clear and persuasive."--Booklist

"An important examination of ‘the nexus of [drug] smugglers and extremists’ in the global war against terrorists. Peters builds a solid case [and] has exhaustively framed one of the thorniest problems facing policy makers in this long war."--Publishers Weekly

"A vitally important book. Until the United States admits what Peters knows, and changes course, the virulent narco-terrorism spreading across South Asia will cause us to lose not only Afghanistan but Pakistan as well."--Robert Baer, New York Times bestselling author of Sleeping with the Devil and The Devil We Know

"Required reading for anyone interested in public-policy issues concerning drugs, defense, and diplomacy . . . Buy it."--National Post (Canada)

"Peters has done a superlative job with Seeds of Terror. It is a primer for the new administration--a blueprint for what must be done in Afghanistan to rescue victory from the jaws of defeat."--Jack Lawn, DEA chief under Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush

"The linkage between fighting drugs and fighting terrorism is, with Seeds of Terror, now firmly established. Gretchen Peters, combining personal experience and in-depth research, paints a frightening picture and tells us how to surmont the problem. A critically important book."--Raymond W. Baker, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and author of Capitalism's Achilles Heel

"Detailed and highly readable . . . masterfully traces the enormous success of the illegal heroin trade in Afghanistan."--Frederick P. Hitz, former inspector general of the CIA and author of Why Spy?

About the Author

Gretchen Peters has covered Pakistan and Afghanistan for more than a decade, first for the Associated Press and later for ABC News. A Harvard graduate, Peters was nominated for an Emmy for her coverage of the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto and won the SAJA Journalism Award for a Nightline segment on Pervez Musharraf. She lives in the United States with her husband, the Robert Capa Gold Medal-winning photojournalist John Moore, and their two daughters.

Customer Reviews

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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars July 10 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
well written and very interesting.
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1 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Every single one of this author's arguments in based on the false premise that opium use would decrease if her 9-point plan was implemented, which is completely false. Her "solution" would increase prices and profits for drug dealers, organized crime, and terrorists. By refusing to acknowledge the following facts, she has become a profiteer of the "war on drugs":
Prohibition = higher drug prices = government corruption = increased profits for terrorists and organized crime = more drug dealers and users.
Legalization = more control = lower prices = less profit for terrorists and organized crime = fewer drug dealers and users. Drug use and violence will continue to increase until Gretchen and others accept the truth.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.7 out of 5 stars  34 reviews
39 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Follow the Money May 18 2009
By Steven Stoft - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
To understand the Taliban and al Qaeda, read this book. "Seeds of Terror" takes you to the heart of the matter—money, not religion. Opium not jihad. Gretchen Peters understands the big picture, the one Obama and the U.S. military desperately need to see.

Opium is still seen as just one means of financing religious fanatics. As Peters reveals, it's much more. For the Taliban, drug money is not just the means; it has become the objective—just like it is for the Colombian and Mexican drug mafias. As she tells us, "The insurgency is exploding precisely because the opium trade is booming."

The Taliban are almost entirely from the Pashtun tribe, and to her credit, Peters speaks fluent Pashto, which may be why the book feels so credible. For ten years, she has tracked the drug racket in every way imaginable, from flying with Pakistanis using forward-looking infrared cameras looking for drug convoys to sipping tea in one of HJK's two hundred houses. HJK, you will learn, was the number one smuggler behind the Taliban, with a billion-dollar drug business extending from Osama bin Laden to Mullah Omar and from Uzbekistan to Dubai. It's a fascinating read.

Peters admits she can't determine the depth of al Qaeda's involvement in the drug trade, although al Qaeda operatives routinely ship drugs to the Gulf. But she proves beyond a doubt that the Taliban has become primarily a criminal operation, and if the Taliban wins, al Qaeda will have its own narco-state.

Here's a hint of what's in the book. Chapter (1) To go after terrorist, you must go after their drug profits. (2) The explosion of heroin during the war to oust the Soviets. (3) The rise of the Taliban and the narco-terror state. (4) How heroin saved the Taliban (and changed them) after we kicked them out. (5) HJK, the sheepherder turned kingpin. (6) How drug money flows outside the banking system—an amazing process. (7) How U.S./NATO policy has avoided the drug war or been wholly inadequate, and how the Afghan government has been corrupted. The final chapter (8) is about what should be done. It's not the most fascinating part, but it may be the most important.

Peters present a nine point approach that seems well thought out, but in my view, her biggest strategic contribution is her thinking on how to attack the drug business. "Twelve percent of the Afghan population lives off the poppy trade. Destroying their livelihoods overnight [poppy eradication]—before providing alternatives—would ... turn more Afghans against the United States. ... The goal should be to cut or eliminate profits for smugglers and financiers at the top." Unfortunately she only goes a little deeper than that, but I think she's headed in exactly the right direction. As Peters has proved, Afghanistan is a narco-terror state, and we need to fight both parts at once--the narcotics business and the terrorist who profit from it.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An important issue, drowning in detail and poor structure Jan. 2 2010
By S. McGee - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
By the time I finished this potentially very interesting work about an unquestionably important topic, I was downright irritable at the circuitous, repetitive and sometimes impenetrable book about what is almost certainly one of the key national security issues we face: the link between narco-trafficking and the terrorism that its profits finance.

Just from keeping up with the news, I knew this was an important topic and one I wanted to learn more of. Alas, this book didn't help much. Part of the problem is the structure -- Peters seems to make the same point over and over again, leaving me wondering why no editor had taken her material in hand and imposed some kind of order and coherence on it. Every so often, a segment would grab my attention, such as her quest into "HJK", the Afghan drug kingpin she compares to Khun Sa, the warlord of the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia. But then she quickly relapses into making the same point in different ways, relying more on comments from anonymous Westerners and other security officials than other first-hand observations, and quoting reports by other journalists. Why??? if she has spent the last decade in the region, surely she can bring her own observations and reporting to bear, instead of quoting her peers on what seem like banalities, such as: "What is new is the scale of this toxic mix of jihad and dope," writes journalist David Kaplan." That's the same point she's making in 17 different ways in the book; why quote another observer to make it #18?

Putting together this tendency to "tell" rather than "show" the reader what is happening, her reliance on other journalists' narratives to tell the story, and the circuitous nature of the book, left me with a disappointing book on my hands, and one that often felt as if it were written for a wire service or perhaps and news magazine and then streeettttchhhhed to fill an entire book. I'm sure there was new information in here, but frankly, you'd have to be following the drugs/terrorism connection with more than just average curiosity to detect it as it doesn't stand out. This struck me as an effort to drill down more deeply into one part of the vast interlinked criminal world that Misha Glenny chillingly outlined in McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld, but it didn't come close to matching Glenny's book in reach or style.

Recommended only to those with a compelling interest in the subject and enough tolerance for ponderous prose to wade their way through this in search of the nuggets it probably does contain. It's certainly a 5-star book, but I can't, in good conscience, award it more than three stars. Even Opium Season: A Year on the Afghan Frontier, which is little more than a memoir by a young member of one of the anti-opium taskforces that have tried combating the cultivation of poppies in Afghanistan ended up providing me with more insight into the broad issue, including the perspective of the Afghans themselves.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Turbulent Taliban July 13 2009
By William J Higgins III - Published on
I floated between three or four stars and settled for the former. At times a confusing read but I believe only because the subject at hand is complex. Also, from the cover jacket I thought this was the author's full decade of experiences in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Turns out that this is basically a researched history, past and present, with possible future solutions to the opium/heroin trade supporting the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Nonetheless, an insightful read of corruption, sleaze and greed. It's not even about religion anymore, it's about money.

The book certainly does make one keep up with current affairs in this part of the world.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Follow the money and see a bitter truth about our government May 23 2012
By Kug - Published on
Seeds of Terror is an important book for all Americans. Author Gretchen Peters does a masterful job of tracing the money in the war on drugs. The picture she paints from firsthand on the ground experince is a sad one. When you read this book you will see the double dealings of our government, how the militarys hands are tied and while Marines and our Army is close by convoys of drugs move from Pakistan and Afghanistan right through to Iran who gets them to our great allie Turkey for distribution in Europe. Our military cannot bomb the convoys ... think about that one. We have Border Patrol Agents dieing on the Mexican Border while our hands are ties from the source. Sad times we live in. An important book to read and share.
9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hunting the Houbara Bustard May 29 2009
By Andrew Schonbek - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As described by Gretchen Peters in Seeds of Terror, this was a common pretext for invitations by Osama bin Laden to wealthy Persian Gulf sheiks to travel to Afghanistan in the late 1990's. Combining business and pleasure, the sheiks were believed to bring in weapons and materiel for al Qaeda and the Taliban and to fly out with loads of heroin. Apparently bin Laden himself often participated in the bustard hunting excursions that represented the pleasure component of the junkets.

Like me you may be wondering what in the world a houbara bustard actually is. We learn from Peters that it's a type of "rare falcon". As it turns out, this is not correct. In fact, the houbara bustard is an endangered, primarily terrestrial bird, which is hunted by falcons and is the most prized quarry for Arab falconers. Hence its near extinction...

Anyway, setting this bit of sketchy scholarship aside, there is much of consequence that we do learn in Seeds of Terror. Essential points of the book are as follows:

* Drug traffickers, terrorist groups, and the criminal underworld represent a new axis of evil that the world needs to confront.

* The Taliban (clearly) and Al Qaeda (implicitly) are prospering from a growing stream of funding from the drug trade.

* Combating the terrorists will require going after the drug traffickers. This is something that for a variety of reasons the US and NATO commanders have been reluctant to do.

* The stakes are exceptionally high. According to the 9/11 Commission, September 11 cost al Qaeda $ 500,000. Al Qaeda has threatened future actions with casualties "too high to count", implying a quest for weapons of mass destruction. The availability of vast amounts of money from drug profits puts them closer to achieving this goal.

* Cutting off this source of funding will be exceedingly difficult, but not impossible.

* Eradication of the poppy crop, to date the focus of anti drug efforts in Afghanistan, is the least effective strategy. Instead, a holistic approach involving diplomatic initiatives; counterinsurgency strategy; blended intelligence and law enforcement efforts; military strikes against drug lords, labs, and transport convoys; development of a farm support network; public relations; disruption of financial flows; and implementation of alternatives for the livelihoods of affected parties is proposed.

Clearly this is important material and the world needs to hope that the appropriate policy makers take note.

Reading this book, particularly wading through the labyrinthine relationships of Afghanistan's various factions, gangs, and power brokers, is tough going. Nevertheless, given the significance of the subject matter, I give it a four star recommendation, in spite of the sloppy ornithology of the bustard business.
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