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New strategy announced to combat Afghan opium

- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2007

The Bush administration announced yesterday a new strategy to reduce drug trafficking in Afghanistan, the world-wide leader in opium production.

The five-pillar plan also aims to increase the central government's control over the country, where a dramatic rise in the harvesting of opium is seen as contributing to an increase in terrorism.

"What we are trying to do is dramatically increase incentives in poppy seed reduction," said Thomas Schweich, the deputy assistant secretary of state for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. "Also we're looking for harsher disincentives where poppy seed production is increasing."

The area under poppy seed cultivation in Afghanistan skyrocketed from 20,000 acres when the Taliban was ousted from power in 2001 to more than 400,000 acres last year.

In a report accompanying yesterday's announcement, the State Department cited evidence that Taliban commanders receive financial support from opium production.

Additionally, the report said, Taliban commanders are "providing security/safe passage for drug shipments and are collecting 'donations,' both money and supplies, such as vehicles from wealthy traffickers, to support the Taliban cause."

The five pillars of the strategy are:

• Public information. The plan calls for a greater focus on the link between opium production and the increase in terrorism in Afghanistan.

"Throughout the year, interdiction successes and the arrests of high value targets should be widely publicized throughout the Afghan media," the report said. "Public information emphasis on interdiction serves to dispel misinformation that counternarcotics programs only target poppy farmers and to demonstrate that no one group is being unfairly targeted."

• Alternative development. The report said that many families have turned to opium cultivation because Afghanistan is one of the world's poorest countries. Through an alternative development program, the government hopes to provide short- and long-term alternatives for opium planters.

The program also will provide between $25 million and $50 million in incentives to provincial leaders who reduce or eliminate opium production in their areas.

• Poppy elimination/eradication. The report suggests that a "national net poppy reduction target before the fall of 2007 planting season [should be established] to create an atmosphere of accountability." Those provinces that excel in reducing or eliminating poppy production could be rewarded, the report said.

Such rewards could include special grants for projects of interest to provincial governors, international recognition and promotions to prestigious positions.

• Interdiction/law-enforcement operations. The U.S. government will provide the Counternarcotics Police of Afghanistan with the ability to protect the elements of the five-pillar strategy, the report said. Such aid includes training, equipment and mentors for the force until the special command force is able to operate on its own.

• Justice reform/prosecution. The report calls for the Afghan government to expand its ability to prosecute drug traffickers. During the next few years, the U.S. government intends to increase its justice sector support for the Afghan government.