The United Nations is calling on NATO forces in Afghanistan to destroy the country's opium-producing industry. According to a U-N news release, "Opium cultivation throughout Afghanistan surged fifty-nine percent to one-hundred-sixty-five-thousand hectares in 2006." The U-N says, "the opium harvest was an unprecedented six-thousand-one-hundred tons, an increase of forty-nine percent from 2005, making Afghanistan virtually sole supplier to the world."
Antonio Maria Costa, head of the U-N's Office of Drugs and Crime, says, "revenue from the [opium poppy] harvest will be over three-billion dollars this year, making a handful of criminals and corrupt officials rich. Mr. Costa goes on to say that drug money is seriously undermining the state building efforts in Afghanistan.
In a written statement, Afghan president Hamid Karzai says the opium economy "is the single greatest challenge to the long term security, development and effective governance of Afghanistan." He says Afghans "have to tackle this problem head on."
Anne Patterson, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Narcotics and Law Enforcement, says remnants of the ousted Taleban regime are involved with the illicit drug trade:
"Taleban are protecting drug routes and protecting traffickers, and they are encouraging farmers to plant opium. Whether they are getting revenue from it, or just encouraging an anti-government statement is not clear."
John Gastright, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, says a campaign combining military support, reconstruction, and replacing corrupt officials, is making progress:
"President Karzai has replaced a number of officials at the most senior levels, including the former governor of Helmand province, Sher Muhammed, who was famously caught with about ten tons of opium in the basement of the governor's mansion."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the new Afghan army and NATO forces "are moving into those areas that previously had been sanctuaries to ensure that the rule of law and sufficient security conditions are set." Ms. Rice says, "You will see that expansion each week, each month in the years ahead to take away those sanctuaries for the complex threat, not just Taleban, but the narco-traffickers and the poppy cultivation."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.