- The U.S. military is opposing Bush administration plans
to conduct crop eradication in Afghanistan, where poppy cultivation in
the coming weeks will net millions of dollars for Taliban and al Qaeda
drug runners, U.S. officials say.
- The military officials, including representatives of
the U.S. Central Command, have argued in interagency meetings that attacking
Afghanistan's poppy fields is a nonmilitary function that should be left
- Proponents of the effort, in the White House and State
Department, want the Pentagon to send special aircraft to drop herbicide
on Afghanistan's poppy fields before the opium-producing plants are harvested
in the next four to six weeks.
- "This is asymmetrical warfare, and it would be a
prudent force-protection measure," said a U.S. official close to the
- The money obtained from Afghanistan's poppy harvest will
fuel the guerrilla war that is expected to escalate against U.S. and allied
forces in the coming months.
- The money from the poppies also will bolster anti-U.S.
elements in the Pakistani ISI intelligence service, the officials said.
- "If this opium is harvested and permitted to go
to market, it will re-empower the negative elements in Pakistan's security
service and lead to instability in Pakistan," the official said. "And
it will fund a new round of international terrorism."
- A National Security Council spokesman had no comment,
noting that the subject is part of an ongoing internal debate.
- Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan,
has rejected the idea of using U.S. military forces for poppy crop eradication,
according to a Pentagon official.
- "That's not our mission," an official quoted
Gen. Franks as saying.
- Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson
told Congress on March 12 that the DEA has obtained "multisource information"
linking al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, to heroin trafficking.
- "The very sanctuary previously enjoyed by bin Laden
was based on the existence of the Taliban's drug state, whose economy was
exceptionally dependent on opium," Mr. Hutchinson said.
- Afghanistan produced over 70 percent of the world supply
of illicit opium in 2000, and U.S. officials said the current crop is expected
to be large.
- A DEA intelligence report in September said that Afghanistan
produced 74 metric tons of opium from 4,162 acres of poppy fields last
- The opium produced was significantly less than in 2000,
when 3,656 metric tons of opium were produced from 64,510 hectares of land
- Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, who was ousted during
U.S. military operations in December, issued a decree in July 2000 banning
poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. He ordered the militia to eradicate any
poppy fields under Taliban control.
- The State Department, which is in charge of nonmilitary
policies toward Afghanistan, has been unable to purchase the special aircraft
required to spray herbicide on the poppies, the officials said.
- One option under consideration is to purchase two Air
Tractor aerial spraying aircraft and send them to Afghanistan. The plan
called for using a special defoliant designed to kill poppy and coca plants
without injuring other plants.
- But the State Department was slow to take steps to arrange
the aircraft purchase, so the aircraft cannot be procured until August
- well after the poppy fields have been harvested and the material turned
into opium and heroin.
- The DEA intelligence report said "numerous"
laboratories are located in Afghanistan and Pakistan and there are "significant"
numbers of opium dealers in the Jalalabad and Ghani Khel areas.
- The laboratories are known to be located in Afghanistan's
northwest border areas of Kunduz and Badakhstan provinces.
- Military officials are said to have opposed the crop-spraying
plan as being too risky in Afghanistan, where al Qaeda and Taliban fighters
still pose a threat.
- Most of the drug-producing crops are located in Afghanistan's
Helmand, Kandahar, Nangarhar and Lowgar provinces.
- Administration officials also are upset that the Central
Command did not conduct bombing raids against opium warehouses in Afghanistan
during the military campaign that began Oct. 7.
- The facilities went unscathed after legal advisers at
Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., determined the opium storehouses
were not legitimate military targets.
- Interim government leader Hamid Karzai has continued
the Taliban ban on poppy growing. Mr. Karzai also has sought international
support for anti-drug efforts in the country.
- Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency reported
last week that Afghan farmers have begun cultivating poppy fields. Brig.
Gen. Mehdi Abouei, chief of Iran's counter-drug efforts, said on March
18 that poppy cultivation is increasing since the U.S.-led bombing campaign
and could result in a crop of up to 2,500 ton of opium this season.