- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 9, 2003

Opium production in Afghanistan has risen twentyfold over the past two years to levels similar to peak production under the terrorist-tied Taliban regime, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration said yesterday.
DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson said independent drug traffickers had re-established traditional trade routes in the war-torn country and there had been a significant increase in the number of acres planted with opium poppies, which are processed into heroin.
Mr. Hutchinson also said there were concerns the Afghan drug trade could again come under the control of terrorist organizations.
"We are seeing poppy production grow, to our regret, to the same levels prior to the dismantling of the Taliban," Mr. Hutchinson told reporters during a briefing at DEA headquarters. "Eradication has been moderately successful, and we are having a measure of success in containing the operations."
But, he said, while the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai was strongly opposed to opium production, there were "gaps" in efforts by the still-splintered law enforcement agencies in that country to bring it under control.
Mr. Hutchinson said the Afghan government has not trained enough police to control the production of opium.
Federal law enforcement authorities expect the 2002 opium production total in Afghanistan to be about 3,700 tons, compared with 185 tons in 2000. In 1999, Afghanistan produced a record 5,070 tons of opium.
The Karzai government tried to pay farmers to allow the destruction of their opium crops earlier this year, but the program ran out of money. There also were violent demonstrations by Afghan farmers who opposed the program.
The authorities estimated that the 3,700 tons of opium produced represented a cash crop of about $1.2 billion in a country trying to recover from years of war.
In the fiscal 2003 budget, the Justice Department implemented a $17.4 million program called "Operation Containment" aimed at identifying, targeting, investigating, disrupting and dismantling transnational heroin-trafficking organizations in Afghanistan.
The department said the links to terrorism made combating heroin production in Central Asia critical to U.S. security. It said Operation Containment would use a "multifaceted approach to drug enforcement involving a series of investigative, diplomatic and training initiatives."
Under Operation Containment, the DEA has directed enforcement and intelligence assets to dismantle all organizations, including terrorist groups, engaged in drug trafficking.
Before the U.S.-led war against the Taliban, Afghanistan was a major source for cultivation, processing and trafficking of heroin, and accounted for more than 70 percent of the world's supply of illicit opium in 1999. Morphine base and heroin produced in Afghanistan were trafficked worldwide and narcotics was the largest source of income in Afghanistan as a result of the decimation of the country's economic infrastructure.
The ousted Taliban militia controlled the opium trade, according to government estimates. The sale of the product, authorities said, brought the Taliban as much as $40 million a year with some of the cash going to the terrorists who hid and trained in that country, including Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network.
The Taliban taxed opium harvests, heroin production and drug shipments to help finance its purchases of arms and war materials, pay for terrorist training, and support the operation of Islamist extremists in neighboring countries.
In January 2002 the Afghan Interim Authority (AIA) announced a ban on poppy cultivation and began an eradication program that targeted about a quarter of the 2002 spring poppy crop.

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