Pubdate: Mon, 18 Aug 2003
Source: Time Magazine (US)
Contact:  2003 Time Inc
Author: Tim Mcgirk 


The U.S. Military May Be Turning A Blind Eye To Afghanistan's Drug Trade, Which
Fills The Coffers Of Both Enemies And Allies

While searching for Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters, U.S. special forces in
Afghanistan routinely come across something they're not looking for: evidence
of a thriving Afghan drug trade. But they're not doing anything about it,
antinarcotics experts tell TIME. Several Kabul diplomats familiar with U.S.
military operations say that while carrying out searches in eastern and
southern Afghanistan - opium-growing areas that are also Taliban strongholds

Antinarcotics experts in Kabul say the U.S. is making a mistake by ignoring the
Afghan drug smugglers. Taking action against them would hurt the terrorists,
they argue, since both use the same underground pipeline to move cash, guns and
fugitives across borders. "I'm positive that the Taliban are heavily involved
in drug trafficking," says Wais Yasini, counter-narcotics adviser to Afghan
President Hamid Karzai. "How else do you account for the source of their
money?" This year, after a bumper crop of opium poppies, say U.N. officials,
Afghanistan became the world's largest heroin producer, with an estimated $1.2
billion in profits.

The debate over whether to crack down on the drug trade has reached the top
levels of the Pentagon. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld doesn't want the
already over-stretched 8,000 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan to become sidetracked
from their main goal: to capture and kill terrorists. And chasing drug
smugglers could take away allies from the Americans. Diplomats say many of the
local commanders the U.S. military relies on for intelligence on al-Qaeda and
the Taliban and to provide hired guns are mixed up in the drug business.
"Without money from drugs, our friendly warlords can't pay their militias,"
says a Kabul diplomat. "It's as simple as that."
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