HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Second Record Level for Afghan Opium Crop
Pubdate: Tue, 28 Aug 2007
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2007 The New York Times Company
Author: David Rohde
Referenced: The UN report


KABUL, Afghanistan -- Opium cultivation in Afghanistan grew by 17 
percent in 2007, reaching record levels for the second straight year, 
according to a United Nations report released Monday.

Despite a $600 million American counternarcotics effort and an 
increase in the number of poppy-free provinces to 13 from 6, the 
report found that the amount of land in Afghanistan used for opium 
production is now larger than amount of land used for coca 
cultivation in all of Latin America.

Afghanistan now accounts for 93 percent of the world's opium, up from 
92 percent last year, the report said.

Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the United Nations 
Office on Drugs and Crimes Policy, which issued the report, called 
the new figures terrifying. "Afghanistan today is cultivating 
megacrops of opium," he said at a news conference. "Leaving aside 
China in the 19th century, no other country has produced so much 
narcotics in the past 100 years."

Mr. Costa described a "divided" Afghanistan, with opium production 
dropping in the relatively stable north, and growing in the south, 
the center of an insurgency. There, Taliban militants control large 
areas and have encouraged farmers to grow opium. Production in the 
south has also become more sophisticated, with the number of labs 
processing opium into heroin growing to 50 from 30 in Helmand 
Province, local officials said.

The report is likely to spark renewed debate over an American-backed 
proposal for the aerial spraying of opium crops with herbicide. 
Afghan and British officials have opposed aerial spraying, saying it 
would increase support for the Taliban among farmers who fear the 
herbicide would poison them and their families. A proposal to carry 
out pilot programs where herbicide would be sprayed by ground 
eradication teams is now being considered, according to Western officials.

Mr. Costa called for NATO troops to begin playing a more active role 
in countering trafficking by supporting Afghan counternarcotics 
operations and providing additional intelligence. He said that after 
two years of NATO and American officials reacting skeptically to his 
requests for more military involvement in counternarcotics, there was 
a growing consensus that the drug trade finances the insurgency.

"I am a lot more optimistic," he said. "The perception I have is that 
our call is not falling any longer on deaf ears."

In Helmand Province, which produces more opium than any other country 
in the world, there are now 7,000 British NATO troops, the largest 
concentration of foreign forces in Afghanistan.

Helmand had a 48 percent increase in opium production in 2007, the 
report said. The province, which is twice the size of Maryland, 
produced 53 percent of Afghanistan's opium this year, up from roughly 
42 percent last year.

The northeastern province of Nangrahar, which had reduced cultivation 
in recent years, experienced a 285 percent increase in opium 
cultivation in 2007, the report found. The Southwestern province of 
Farah, the scene of increased Taliban activity, experienced a 93 
percent increase.

On the day the report was released, NATO and American officials 
announced the deaths of five foreign soldiers. Three American 
soldiers were killed Monday in Kunar in the northeast, American 
officials said. And officials announced that a NATO soldier was 
killed Monday in the eastern Afghanistan and a Dutch soldier was 
killed Sunday in Oruzgan in the south.

United Nations officials track opium cultivation through ground 
surveys and satellite images. The survey found that the number of 
hectares in Afghanistan cultivated with poppies grew to 193,000 in 
2007, from 165,000 in 2006, a 17 percent increase. Favorable weather 
led to high yields, with the estimated opium produced rising to 9,000 
tons in 2007, from 6,700 tons in 2006, a 34 percent increase.

The report notes that no large increase in world demand for opium has 
occurred in recent years and that supply from Afghanistan "exceeds 
global demand by an enormous margin." It said up to 3,300 tons of 
opium was being stockpiled in Afghanistan.

Terrorist groups could be stockpiling the drug, the report warned. 
"Opium stockpiles, a notorious store of value, could once again be 
used to fund international terrorism," it said.

Mr. Costa chastised Afghan officials and Western nations for not 
adding one name to a United Nations Security Council list of major 
drug traffickers linked to terrorism. The eight-month-old list calls 
for traffickers to be arrested and their assets seized.

Earlier, he said that this year's result suggested greed, not 
poverty, was driving the opium trade

The provinces in the north that cut opium cultivation are relatively 
poor, he said. Those in the south that increased production, like 
Helmand, are comparatively wealthy. Over time, he said, opium would 
also distort the economy of southern Afghanistan.

"The longer we let this cancer spread the deeper it's going to get 
into the economic system," he said. "And the more difficult it's 
going to be to cut it out." 
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