- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

U.S. soldiers have seized large quantities of opium in raids on militants’ hide-outs in Afghanistan in what government officials say is proof that terrorists have tapped into the illicit-drug trade to finance operations.

The Washington Times has acquired U.S. military photographs of Taliban-al Qaeda sanctuaries that show stashes of mines, rifles and bags identified as holding hundreds of pounds of opium gum.

Publicly, the Bush administration is reluctant to say that the Taliban-al Qaeda axis is directly involved in the drug trade. Instead, officials often say drug smugglers run the trade, with al Qaeda and Taliban fighters benefiting by using the supply routes to transport weapons and explosives.

The Times-acquired photographs, and an accompanying e-mail from an Army Special Forces soldier, show that terrorists are deeply involved in the drug trade, say military sources who provided the proof.

“Attached are photographs summarizing the linkage between [anti-coalition militants] and the drug trade,” the soldier said in the e-mail. The soldier described the militants as renegade warlords and members of Taliban and al Qaeda.

Disclosure of the photographs comes as the Bush administration is weighing a shift in its counternarcotics police. Crop eradication and drug interdiction are primarily left up to local Afghan authorities, with Britain as the lead coalition member.

U.S. troops are confined mostly to a support role, providing intelligence and logistics. But the White House may opt to let Americans become directly involved in attacking drug labs and supply convoys.

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have pressed the Pentagon to take on the drug trade directly. They warn that Afghanistan may fall into the status of “narco-state” if the burgeoning illicit trade is not suppressed.

GIs took the photographs after three raids in the Helmand province and lower Uruzgan province, where a large share of Afghanistan’s poppy crop is harvested and turned into opium.

On March 17, 10th Mountain Division soldiers attacked Taliban hide-outs in the village of Miam Do. The soldiers were seeking Mullah Berader, the right-hand man of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, but did not find him. They did confiscate large qualities of weapons and opium.

The previous month, Army Special Forces (Green Berets) struck an anti-coalition compound in Helmand and found 500 pounds of opium.

In a third raid in the neighboring Zabul province, soldiers found opium stockpiles owned by renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his Hezb Islami terror organization.

The warlord, the Taliban and al Qaeda form the main resistance to the new government led by President Hamid Karzai and his plans for countrywide elections.

A report by the United Nations on the Afghan drug problem said farmers and smugglers netted $2.3 billion in 2003. The crops play a dominant role in providing income in a country with a gross domestic product of $4 billion.

“Out of this drug chest, some provincial administrators and military commanders take a considerable share,” the report said. “The more they get used to this, the less likely it becomes that they will respect the law, be loyal to Kabul and support the legal economy.”

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