- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday the Pentagon is "leaning forward" on drug control in post-Taliban Afghanistan, but said using the U.S. military to eradicate poppy fields is only one option.

Asked about a report in yesterday's editions of The Washington Times that the U.S. military is opposing the eradication of poppy crops in Afghanistan, Mr. Rumsfeld said he spoke to Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Gen. Franks "has no knowledge of anyone opposing or supporting anything, except that our policy is, as a country, that the heroin trade, the poppy business in that country, represents a fairly significant fraction of the world's heroin, and that that's a bad thing. And that the money that's going to the people that are doing that ends up doing things that are generally unhelpful to the United States of America and to the interim government of Afghanistan," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

U.S. officials told The Times that Gen. Franks has opposed a Bush administration effort to use military forces, with crop-dusting aircraft, to spray herbicide on Afghanistan's poppy fields. The general does not view crop eradication as a job for U.S. forces, the officials said.

The need for crop eradication is said to be urgent since the fields will be harvested in the next four to six weeks and a large crop is expected.

Pressed on whether he opposes using the military for poppy-field eradication, Mr. Rumsfeld said eradication may not be "the best word" to use in dealing with the Afghan drug production problem.

A "variety" of means are being discussed, Mr. Rumsfeld said, noting that "I just haven't heard any yet that necessarily involve the Department of Defense."

Some administration officials, along with those in the international community, favor trying to stop drug trafficking from Afghanistan by cutting off supplies of opium and finished heroin as it is transported out of the country.

Critics of that tactic say crop eradication is the only viable option because drug traffickers, like numerous Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, can easily evade capture.

Britain's government wants the United States to take the lead in the anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan, and U.S. officials have said they want London to play a major role, the officials said.

One U.S. official said U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan asked Central Command headquarters to authorize poppy field eradication but were rebuffed.

The eradication effort has been discussed among U.S. national security officials over the past several weeks, and the idea of crop eradication is being pushed by several White House and State Department officials.

"There is no real solution to keeping profits away from terrorist organizations except through eradication," said a U.S. official close to the internal debate. "The bottom line is, if the poppies survive, hundreds of millions of dollars are going to go to terrorists," the official said. "And it will cost the lives of many American servicemen in Afghanistan."

Mr. Rumsfeld said the interim government of Afghanistan, headed by Hamid Karzai, is concerned about drug production. Mr. Karzai has asked for international assistance in dealing with the problem.

However, other officials said Mr. Karzai has no control over the Pashtun tribes involved in opium production.

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