Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Afghan opium increasingly smuggled north

United Press International

Washington - Heroin smuggling from Afghanistan to Russia has increased from 10 to 25 percent of Afghanistan's illegal output, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Tajikistan is the primary trans-shipment country for opiates destined for Russia, according to Karen Tandy, DEA administrator, who testified to the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday. About half the heroin that moves through Tajikistan is consumed in Russia, she said. The rest moves through Russia to Europe.

Drug traffickers in Afghanistan primarily use trucks to more their product north, where Tajik criminal organizations take over the operation.

The DEA will be establishing an office in Dushanabe, Tajikistan in the spring of 2007 to begin combating that traffic, Tandy said.

Eradicating poppy production -- the base ingredient for opium and heroin -- is complicated by an upswing in Taliban-related violence in southern Afghanistan, where most of the poppies are grown and where most laboratories that process poppy into opiates are located.

U.S. officials believe narcotraffickers are giving Taliban fighters funding and safe harbor in an attempt to frustrate Kabul and Washington's anti-narcotics campaign.

Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, head of coalition forces in Afghanistan, told the committee simple eradication can not work unless the farmers are given another crop to grow, irrigation for it, and a transit system to bring that product to market.

"If you gave me a choice between having another infantry battalion or $50 million to build roads, I'd take the $50 million for roads," he told the committee.

Afghanistan is the world's leading producer of illicit opium. Under the Taliban's rule in 2001 -- when poppy growing was banned but heroin production encouraged -- Afghanistan produced only 63 tons of opium. By 2004, Afghanistan produced 4,950 metric tons of opium. It declined slightly in 2005, but -- according to the United Nations -- is expected to rise again in 2006.


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