- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2004

Multiple heroin trafficking organizations are operating inside Afghanistan with profits being used to finance at least three terrorist groups, U.S. lawmakers and administration officials said yesterday.

“We know that some traffickers provide logistical assistance to extremists — especially to remnants of the Taliban — and that some extremist groups raise money by taxing poppy production and profiting from the processing and sale of narcotics,” said Thomas W. O’Connell, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict.

Mr. O’Connell’s testimony before the House International Relations Committee reflected an emerging picture of the al Qaeda heroin connection, which has become more clear since December, when Navy ships in the northern Arabian Sea seized boats, operated by crew members believed to have al Qaeda ties, concealing stashes of heroin.

Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, who heads the committee, said the vast amounts of illicit money generated by the Afghan drug industry are “ripe for the taking by al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their terrorist allies.”

Mr. Hyde said stemming poppy cultivation will be a long-term issue for the Afghan government but stressed that “now is the time” for the Defense Department to treat known opium processing labs and dumps in Afghanistan as “legitimate military targets.”

Mr. O’Connell said Taliban remnants, al Qaeda operatives and such other extremists as Hezb-I-Islami or HiG, a group loyal to warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, “do not by themselves control narcotics networks,” but are part of a fragmented illegal narcotics industry in the war-torn country.

In testimony yesterday, Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican, said the heroin group Haji Bashir Noorzai in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar “reportedly provides 2,000 kilograms of heroin every eight weeks to bin Laden lieutenants in Pakistan.”

“At the Pakistani price for heroin, this one conduit gives Osama bin Laden an annual income of $28 million per year,” he said.

Last month, Mr. Kirk said, heroin is now bin Laden’s No. 1 asset.

The view of bin Laden as “relying on Wahhabi donations from abroad is outdated” and that a “more accurate, up-to-date view” is that bin Laden is one of the world’s largest heroin dealers, he had said.

Bush administration officials say opium producers in Afghanistan account for more than 75 percent of the world’s opium poppies. Some estimate heroin sales make up at least half of the Afghan economy, with struggling Afghan farmers relying by economic necessity on growing opium poppies.

Assistant Secretary of State Robert B. Charles yesterday testified that “Afghanistan is already at risk of its narco-economy leading unintentionally but inexorably to the evolution of a narco-state.”

Last month, Mr. Charles, who heads the State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), said the United States will begin a $310 million drug-eradication effort in Afghanistan.

The program, led by the INL, seeks to designate drug kingpins for extradition and prosecution, and to close the Afghan border to opium and heroin traffickers.

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