Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The chairman of the House International Relations Committee said yesterday that a contingent of Colombian narcotics fighters is due in Afghanistan this week to share its expertise in combating powerful drug lords.

“Two separate groups coming from different environments attacking the same problem are bound to produce some new ideas,” Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, said in an interview.

Illegal drugs have emerged in Afghanistan as a threat nearly on a par with the Taliban and its al Qaeda allies, who this spring went on the offensive in the southern part of the country.

Perhaps no one has fought a more ferocious drug war than the Colombian national police. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a guerrilla group known by the acronym FARC, controls much of the nation’s heroin and cocaine trade and uses the proceeds to try to bring down the democratic government.

Afghanistan can learn from the Colombian experience.

Four Colombian police officers from an elite counternarcotics unit are set to spend about two weeks in Kabul and other areas, sharing war stories and techniques. The trip will include:

• A colonel, who will talk about how to raid drug laboratories, where Afghan warlords are processing opium into heroin and shipping it to Europe and the United States.

• A major, who will talk about how to collect intelligence.

• A captain and helicopter pilot, who will discuss the use of helicopters in drug wars.

• A sergeant, who will explain how to preserve drug crime scenes.

“To meet their counterparts from halfway around the world and to exchange ideas, I think, is a very healthy, productive thing to do,” Mr. Hyde said. “At the very least, they reinforce each other by knowing that they’re out there in the field fighting this problem.”

Mr. Hyde has pushed for more than a year for the Colombian government to dispatch some of its best counternarcotics personnel to Afghanistan, where the growing opium and heroin trade is providing cash to insurgents. Drug kingpins threaten to corrupt and derail the government of the democratically elected president, Hamid Karzai.

“If we don’t defeat the drug commerce in Afghanistan, we might as well leave the country,” Mr. Hyde said. “The quantity of heroin that is exported is staggering, and [kingpins] can bring any culture to its knees if they get too prolific. … It’s a form of chemical terrorism that can defeat a nation.”

Colombia in recent years has had success in shutting down FARC-run drug labs. The purity of Colombian heroin has dipped 22 percent since 2000, a sign that the government’s attacks on illicit labs are cutting into supplies.

In Afghanistan, the numbers are going the other way. According to the latest report from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, the poppy crop increased from about 30,000 acres in 2001, when the U.S.-led force toppled the Taliban, to 250,000 acres last year. Still, that number is down from a peak of 350,000 acres in 2004.

Afghanistan is thought to have produced about 500 metric tons of heroin last year, according to an International Relations Committee staff member. U.S. drug addicts use about 10 metric tons a year, so Afghanistan’s production is more than enough to satisfy users here, in Europe and in other countries.

Administration sources have told The Washington Times that Afghan drug profits are finding their way to the Taliban and al Qaeda, which use the money to buy arms, pay terrorists and fund operations.

Some at the Pentagon have resisted making the connection between drugs and terror. Some commanders fear Congress would press the military to get more involved in the drug interdiction, a traditional law-enforcement mission.

But advocates got a boost this month when Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld made the connection.

“I do worry that the funds that come from the sale of those products could conceivably end up adversely affecting the democratic process in the country,” Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters. “I also think any time there is that much money floating around and you have people like the Taliban, that it gives them an opportunity to fund their efforts in various ways.”

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