Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee says the Bush administration is not doing enough to target heroin traffickers in war-torn Afghanistan, who have resumed control of the world market and expanded their illicit trade into Europe, Canada and the United States.

“Many of us hoped that the recently announced administration’s revised Afghan counternarcotics strategy was the beginning of some new thinking and new initiatives on the crisis and developing cancer that today seriously threatens Afghan democracy,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida.

“However, many problems still remain, which the strategy does not help solve,” Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said in a letter today to Thomas Schweich, the State Department coordinator for counternarcotics and justice reform in Afghanistan.

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said it has been “very disappointing” to many members of Congress “who tried to give the executive branch all the necessary legal tools and support needed ” to target major drug traffickers and war lords who “benefit from this massive illicit drug production and trade.”

Recent reports by the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Afghanistan has become the world’s fastest-growing source of heroin — with a 34 percent increase in opium production over the past year.

About 92 percent of the world’s heroin comes from opium poppies grown in Afghanistan, according to the 2007 World Drug Report released in June by the UNODC, which also said opium cultivation accounted for nearly 60 percent of Afghanistan’s gross national product.

Poppy production has expanded wildly since Hamid Karzai’s government took control in 2002. Last year, Afghan farmers produced 6,100 metric tons of opium, while farmers throughout the rest of the world cumulatively harvested 510 metric tons. Ten years ago, Afghanistan produced 2,248 metric tons of poppies.

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen called the production increases “troubling,” adding that they were “further evidence” that a change in strategy and thinking on the counter-drug front in Afghanistan “is more critical than ever.”

Last year, Congress created in the USA Patriot Act a new extraterritorial offense of narcoterrorism to permit the U.S. government to go after major drug and war lords in Afghanistan when their illicit drugs or the proceeds from their sale are used to support acts of terrorism — even if the drugs are not coming into the United States.

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said Congress also worked to secure the support of the Colombian National Police to help the DEA in a hostile environment such as Afghanistan.

“The CNP has years of tactical experience, operational planning and expertise on taking down these kingpins and their infrastructure, which the DEA did not have in such a harsh, dangerous and hostile security climate as in Afghanistan today,” she said.

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