By Greg Ferency
Based on combat observations and medical studies by the US and British military, it is becoming apparent that methamphetamine use among the terrorist population is on a dramatic increase. Used as a strategic tool, methamphetamine offers those in the Iraqi Area of Operations a whole new host of issues that compromise the safety of those combating terrorism. Whether operating as a contractor or a soldier, the dangers associated with methamphetamine use among those you are fighting need to be addressed.
First reports of the drug appear to have come out of the Basra area. Known as “pinkies,” the stimulant was in the form of a tablet.
Stimulants in the combat zone are nothing new. The fact that we are encountering them in the “War on Terror” should not surprise us in the least. The Germans used methamphetamine during World War II. We all heard of the blitzkrieg conducted by German forces during the early days of the war. German soldiers would march for days, taking up large pieces of land and conquering everything in their wake. Everyone thought that the German soldier was some sort of “super” soldier that could not be stopped. They marched, fought and destroyed with little food or rest.
The fact of the matter is that the soldiers were not “super” at all. Officers were handing out stimulants (most notably methamphetamine) prior to operations. While under the influence of meth the soldier required very little sleep and minimal food (stimulants also act as appetite suppressants).
The Japanese also gave its Kamikaze pilots stimulants prior to their suicidal flights. The commanders certainly wanted these guys feeling ten feet tall and bulletproof when taking off from the runway toward their targets. Commanders could arrange - and even order - the suicidal attacks, but they needed an insurance policy to make sure the pilots completed the kamikaze operations. It apparently worked. Take fanatical ideations and offer the first time-high of a powerful stimulant, and you have deadly combination for all involved.
The American military has also dabbled in the use of stimulants to keep troops alert and combat-ready. My inclination is that the side effects out weigh any perceived advantages.
People under the influence of methamphetamine can behave in a manner that is odd, even under combat applications. Reports coming in are stating that multiple shots are being required to bring down the person under the influence of meth. It is also being noted that those using meth during a battle are taking ridiculously errant risks, which doesn’t make sense to someone who has the standard military mindset.
An example of this is a terrorist standing in the middle of the road, taking shots at an entrenched combat effect squad of military personnel. What may be construed of fanaticism may just as well be a meth-driven high or a combination of both. The results and consequences might be the same, but the motivation may be different. Either way, if the reckless move of standing in the middle of the street results in the discharging of their weapon, it still may result in friendly injury and death and thus an effective result for the bad guys.
On the tactical end of the phenomenon, the soldier/operator must be very careful and not underestimate the possible combat effectiveness of meth in a gunfight. Motivation and/or training are what drives a battle, whether on the streets of Indianapolis or the alleys of Baghdad. American police officers have been dealing with this drug for a long time, and we respect its effects on the user. Tactics and training are sometimes the only thing that saves a police officer's life when confronted with someone under the influence of meth. But first they have to recognize what they are dealing with, and now, so does the soldier/operator/contractor operating overseas.
It is important to understand this drug in order to fight against it and those under its influence. It is also important to know that the introduction of methamphetamine into a group of individuals also offers a strength and weakness that can be recognized, exposed, and acted upon.
The leaders of fanatical groups may very well have already recognized the recruiting psychology and the advantages of using meth to control the base of their fighting force. American drug dealers have been using this method for years. If they control the drug distribution, they control the group using it.
The question is how long they can control it. Obviously, any organized group that we are fighting in the War on Terror has a common ideology: extremism. The early introduction of a drug like methamphetamine may in the beginning give them another common ideation to count on each other with. But addiction and the long term physical and mental effects can be unpredictable.
Terror group leaders have probably learned that they have a window to control their people with meth, getting as much use as possible out of them before throwing them into an act as addiction starts to take over. Meth will eventually deteriorate the mental and physical well being of any user.
On the reverse side of this concept, meth can be used to establish courage for a first user to commit a suicide/homicide action. It is possible they will more than likely feel invincible to this world and gladly engage in an act that they may be originally hesitant to do.
One distinct advantage is powerful stimulants tend to increases a person's imprinted thought pattern. If they hate someone or something before ingestion, it might get to another level after the drugs are introduced to their system. If they feel they are going to paradise prior to ingestion, they may be certain of it after they take the drug.
However, the drug has its obvious demons. Methamphetamine is one of the few illicit drugs that is capable of changing the motives of a person, even a religious fanatic/extremist. A person with fanatical ideas can be quickly overcome by the addiction of meth just as easily as an American youth. Motivation of the terrorist can transfer from their religious extremist ideations to full commitment to the drug and getting more of it… Period. Everything other than methamphetamine may take a back seat.
Let's look at a textbook definition of methamphetamine:
Methamphetamine is a powerful synthetic stimulant that increases the body’s metabolism and causes the user to experience euphoria, increased alertness, the sense of increased energy and well -being.
Methamphetamine literally overrides the body's natural capability to govern rational thought and action. It also is capable of overtaking the body's natural defense system. Meth takes over two major systems of the human body: the nervous system and the pulmonary system. Someone who is shot while under the influence of meth may bleed out faster due to the elevated heart rate and blood pressure.
It also can override the body’s natural defense mechanism, but still leave a person effective in a combat situation even as they are dying. How many times have we heard “the guy kept shooting even after I hit him several times in the chest with my rounds… just wouldn’t go down”? Obviously a person who remains combat effective even after being engaged and shot continues to be a threat.
A disruption of the nervous system is going to be the quickest way to end the threat of someone under the influence of methamphetamine who is engaging you. If nerve impulses to the trigger finger cannot make it there, they can't fire the weapon.
Financial gain for some has tremendous potential in the war zone. Somebody has to supply this stuff to others and money is always going to exchange hands. Illicit drugs, like methamphetamine, are bulky, and they must be transported from one place to another. This makes those involved in distribution vulnerable. They cannot send it through the internet or beam it through the air.
There is one thing that a drug deal requires: trust, believe it or not. We always hear about drug deals going bad and someone getting killed. It is in fact one of the biggest risk we take in police work conducting undercover operations. However, keep in mind that for every drug deal that goes wrong, many more go without notice. That is because the trust factor was successful. This allows a tiny open angle for success counter drug operation, which in turn can lead to counterterrorism operations. Following the drugs as well as following the money may be able lead to success military or police actions on the front in the War on Terror.
As we are seeing in Afghanistan, the sales of illicit drugs can fuel the flames of terrorism and 4th Generation types of conflicts. However, there are some distinct differences between the two areas. Afghanistan has been cultivating the poppy plant for generations. They are good at it, and their precursor source is abundant in the country. In Iraq, the stimulants are being imported as opposed to exported. This may change in the future, which is why someone must get a grip on it now. If a distribution foothold is established we may quickly see the export of drugs like methamphetamine come out of Iraq and to other countries like the United States.
A drug like methamphetamine is easy to produce. The operational side of is production dictates that its clandestine labs can produce unlimited amounts of the drug when all supplies are available, and they can be mobile or static.
Will the stimulant problem in Iraq be a problem for us in the future? We are already seeing it being used as a tool during firefights and bombings. If left unchecked, whether it expands from there is a question only time will tell.