UK and Aussie troops will not fight opium in Afghanistan

Thursday, February 23, 2006

raw opium seized in Afghanistan

Colonel Gordon Messenger, commander of the British forces in Southern Afghanistan, has said that troops under his command will not be engaged in the fight against opium cultivation. "There will be absolutely no maroon berets [of the marines] with scythes in a poppy field," he said.

The United Nations has reported that a "fear that Afghanistan might degenerate into a narco-state is slowly becoming a reality."

U.S. State department officials and the CIA claim that Afghan drug trafficking is a primary source of funding for terrorists. Doug Wankel, a former Drug Enforcement Administration official who is point man for the U.S. counternarcotics initiative at the American Embassy in Kabul, said the opium industry is "financing terrorism. It's financing subversive activities. It's financing warlordism. ... And if it's a threat to the government of Afghanistan, it's a direct threat to the national security interests of the United States."

Australia recently committed 200 extra troops to Afghanistan. Prime Minister John Howard has said that they also will not be involved in destroying opium poppies. "Well, dealing with that is overwhelmingly the responsibility of the local authorities," he said.

opium poppy

A 2005 U.S. State department report warned that Afghanistan is becoming a "narcotics state". Afghan hectares in opium cultivation has increased by 50% since the coalition invasion; up from an average of 67,000 prior to the invasion (1998-2001), to an average of 97,000 since the invasion (2002-2005). The last year under the Taliban, 2001, saw production of 185 metric tonnes; in 2005 production was 4,100 metric tonnes.

Afghanistan produced 87% of the world's opium in 2005 with 104,000 hectares in production. President Karzai has blamed the coalition for this situation, "This particular operation (controlling opium production) was supposed to be done by an agency, a department that was funded by the international community, by the United States, by Britain. The failure is theirs, not ours." Karzai said. "Where international money and creation of forces for destruction of poppies was concerned, it was ineffective and delayed and half-hearted." Karzai is opposed to aerial spraying which was proposed by the United States, as is done in other drug producing regions of the world, because of what Karzai called "health concerns".

Adrian Edwards of the United Nations stated 2 months ago that early reports indicate "there will be an increase in poppy cultivation in 2006".