CHOWKAY VALLEY, Afghanistan -- When U.S. Army Capt. Joe Snowden first asked the elders in this remote valley in eastern Afghanistan to stop growing poppies, they laughed. The poppies, once processed into heroin, fuel the drug trade that provides much of the financing for the Taliban and other fighters in the area, explained Snowden, who is deployed here from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Italy. Although the elders assured Snowden that they understood this, his request still bordered on the absurd.
So did Snowden's request for the name of the leader of the local insurgent cell, which made the elders laugh once again.
In Afghanistan, meetings such as this one between NATO forces and Afghan elders are the bread and butter of military-civil relations. Many NATO patrols culminate in a sit-down with some mix of tribal, religious and local government leaders. Most of these so-called shuras are quite small -- just a couple dozen people. Larger shuras can bring together scores of powerful men.