Sunday, February 29, 2004

The State Department has begun an aggressive antidrug effort in Afghanistan, targeting opium production that has risen twentyfold over the past two years, similar to peak production levels under the terrorist-tied Taliban regime.

Assistant Secretary Robert B. Charles, who heads the department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), told a House subcommittee Friday that the government intends to cut heroin poppy cultivation, destroy drug labs, promote interdiction and seek the prosecution and conviction of drug traffickers.

Mr. Charles told the House Government Reform subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources that Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai “means business — he is serious about tackling the heroin threat to his country.

“This is a leader who is dedicated to breaking the cycle of opium poppy cultivation and narcotics trafficking in his country before local trafficking rings become cartels and put down taproots, transforming Afghanistan into a narco-state,” Mr. Charles said. “President Karzai is determined to proceed with every major aspect of breaking the heroin trade.”

Mr. Charles described the government’s antidrug strategy in Afghanistan as threefold: targeted eradication of heroin poppies, development of alternative sources of income for poppy growers and law enforcement, which he said raises the costs and risks of heroin trafficking.

“Only 8 percent of Afghanistan’s cultivated land is presently used to grow poppies, and we must make the incremental risk of its associated profits higher than the extra income it might produce,” he said.

Afghan opium producers account for more than 75 percent of the world’s opium poppies, which are processed into heroin. They are the major suppliers to Western Europe, and also control 7 percent of the U.S. heroin market.

Under the Taliban regime, the sale of opium and heroin by domestic warlords and international crime syndicates netted the regime $40 million a year, some of which went to Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorists, who hid and trained in that country.

Although Afghan heroin usually is transported to Western Europe, Pakistan and Iran, U.S. law enforcement authorities said Middle Eastern traffickers continue to smuggle the drug to ethnic enclaves in the United States.

Authorities have been concerned that Afghan heroin traffickers, with a renewed crop, might seek alliances with Colombian cartels now operating in this country, or even compete with them. They said an Afghan resurgence in heroin could mean they are looking to expand their market into the United States by undercutting the Colombians.

INL advises the president, secretary of state and other federal departments and agencies on combating international narcotics and crime. Its goals include reducing the amount of drugs smuggled into the United States and reducing the impact of international crime on Americans.

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