- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2007

3:29 p.m.

The United States said today that top anti-terror allies Afghanistan, Pakistan and Colombia had fallen short in the war on drugs despite enhanced counter-narcotics efforts, and it criticized perennial foes Iran, North Korea and Venezuela for not cooperating.

The State Department also noted backsliding in some key Latin American nations such as Bolivia and Peru, while it praised improved performances by traditional transshipment countries in Asia, notably China and Thailand, but slammed neighboring Burma for illicit drug production.

In its annual global survey of the drug war, the department said massive opium poppy production in Afghanistan, long the world’s top producer of the main ingredient for heroin, continued to pose a major threat due to its links with groups such as the Taliban.

“Afghanistan’s huge drug trade undercuts efforts to rebuild the economy and develop a strong democratic government based on the rule of law,” the department said in the 2007 International Narcotic Control Strategy Report.

“There is strong evidence that narcotics trafficking is linked to the Taliban insurgency. These links between drug traffickers and anti-government forces threaten regional stability.”

It added that endemic “corruption” and prevailing “dangerous security conditions” were seriously hindering efforts to combat poppy production that shot up 26 percent to 5,644 tons from 2005 to 2006 and accounted for a third of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product.

The report, released after experts concluded that the country’s opium trade was worth more than $3 billion in 2006, stressed, though, that Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his government remained committed to reducing the harvest through cooperation, particularly with the U.S. and Britain.

Across the border in Pakistan exists a major transit point for opiates and hashish, where Taliban and al Qaeda operatives are also believed to operate, the State Department said. It said it believed the government there had begun several promising new anti-narcotics initiatives.

In addition to reducing its opium production by 39 percent between 2001 and last year, Pakistani authorities reported seizing 2.7 tons of heroin, 32.7 tons of morphine base and eight tons of opium in 2006.

But the report said rampant corruption, especially by underpaid lower-level law enforcement and local officials, had hurt Pakistan’s efforts and “is likely to be associated with the movement of large quantities of narcotics and precursor chemicals.”

Iran, a member of President Bush’s “axis of evil,” is attempting to deal with a domestic drug consumption surge but has yet to enact or enforce laws to decrease demand, which has resulted in what the report said “can only be called an epidemic of opiate abuse.”

It also noted indications that domestic opium production is on the rise in the Islamic Republic.

In the Western Hemisphere, Colombia, Venezuela and Bolivia were identified once again as major suppliers of illegal drugs, mainly cocaine, to the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Ahead of Mr. Bush’s trip to Latin America next week that will include Colombia, only Bogota, however, was singled out for positive efforts in the drug war, with the report pointing out that President Alvaro Uribe’s government is “completely committed to fighting the production and trade in illicit drugs.”

It pointed out that Colombia has extradited 417 drug suspects to the U.S. since 2002, 102 of them last year alone, and that Colombian efforts, aided by American funds, had led to significant increases in the spraying and destruction of coca crops.

This was not the case in either Venezuela and Bolivia, both of which are led by anti-U.S. leftists, where the report said hostile governments had either refused to cooperate or were lagging in the counter-narcotics field.

Under President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela was cited by the U.S. in both 2005 and 2006 as having “failed demonstrably” to comply with its international anti-drug commitments, a situation that remains constant, the State Department said.

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