Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Bush administration has created a post to coordinate efforts against drug smuggling and corruption in Afghanistan, and named a State Department official to the job.

The White House named Thomas Schweich to be coordinator for counternarcotics and justice reform in Afghanistan.

The announcement noted that Mr. Schweich, who currently oversees part of that portfolio as the principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement at the State Department, would be granted the personal rank of ambassador in the post.

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore told United Press International that the ambassador rank was a technical appointment “necessary for him to hold negotiations with foreign countries” in the new post and was not Senate confirmable.

For additional information, she referred a reporter to the State Department, which did not return phone calls or respond to e-mail.

Last month, senior Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, led by the ranking member, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, wrote to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, asking for the appointment of “a high-level coordinator of overall Afghan narco-terrorism policy.”

The bluntly worded letter said interagency rivalry and U.S. policy failures in Afghanistan risked allowing it to slide back into chaos. A second-consecutive record opium harvest is expected this year.

“The open and public dispute with our British allies on opium-eradication methods, along with the many different and often conflicting views of NATO, our Department of Defense, the Drug Enforcement [Administration], and other U.S. agencies on how best to handle the narcotics challenge does not bode well for success,” the letter said.

Disputes have run the gamut of policy issues, from how to deal with local drug kingpins who might be allies of the U.S. or Afghan military to what priority to give to efforts at eradicating the opium poppy or taking down the smuggling networks which distribute the drugs.

The letter said U.S. efforts against narcoterrorism in Afghanistan should be modeled on those in Colombia, which utilizes “all U.S. agencies, assets and assistance.”

The appointment of Mr. Schweich, who began his State Department career under his mentor, former Missouri Republican Sen. John C. Danforth, when the latter was ambassador to the United Nations, appeared to be an effort to respond to concerns in Congress and elsewhere.

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