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The Taliban And The Opium Trade

According to the U.S. State Department's annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report to the U.S. Congress, Afghanistan remained the world's largest producer of opium in 2006, producing more than ninety percent of the world's opium poppy. Afghanistan is also the world's largest heroin producing and trafficking country.

Anne Patterson, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, says Afghanistan's opium poppy cultivation increased by an "alarming" fifty-nine percent, making last year's crop the largest on record:

"Of particular worry is the Taliban's involvement in the drug trade. Drug profits now support elements of the Taliban and fund attacks on U.S. and NATO forces. While counter-narcotics efforts intensified last year, results to date are insufficient. More must be done."

A new United Nations report warns that one reason opium production in Afghanistan could rise again this year is because the Taliban are using it to fund their terrorist activities. Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U-N Office on Drugs and Crime, said that "the vicious circle of drugs funding terrorism and terrorists supporting drug traffickers is stronger than ever" in southern Afghanistan, with "a pronounced divide" between the south and the more stable center and north. This means, he said, that opium cultivation in southern Afghanistan is less a narcotics issue and "more a matter of insurgency, so it is vital to fight them both together."

According to the U-N report, significant decreases in opium cultivation are expected in central and northern Afghanistan thanks to projects providing farmers with incentives to switch to lawful livelihoods. Only six percent of villages that have received external aid, such as medical care, schools, roads, electricity, and irrigation, are engaged in opium cultivation. "Farmers are speaking loud and clear," said Mr. Costa. "They respond to real incentives to stop growing opium."

During the past two years, the United States has spent more than three-hundred million dollars on developing alternative livelihoods for Afghan farmers. A portion of the more than ten billion dollars in aid President George W. Bush is asking Congress to appropriate for Afghanistan will be devoted to counter-narcotics programs.