Cutting opium production was a reason for the UK to send troops to Afghanistan? Comical. Of course before the Taliban were thrown out they had successfully stopped most poppy production and even been rewarded for doing so. Now production is such that over 90 percent of world supply comes from Afghanistan. It is not just the farmers in the area of production but dealers and manufacturers of opium throughout Afghanistan are the problem and as the article notes there are connections to important political and other figures. By the way cutting down production will not necessarily stop funding from the drug trade to the Taliban. The big profits go not to the farmers but to other links in the chain. Cutting production just raises prices and the middlemen's incomes will not decline just those of farmers who will want to throw NATO and the US out as well as kill those who colloborate.
Britain hits low point in opium war
5:00AM Wednesday August 29, 2007
Poppies are flourishing in Afghanistan where opium production is 34 per cent higher than last year. Photo / Reuters
KABUL - Britain faces a war on two fronts in Afghanistan, following the revelation that the province where British troops are deployed has become the biggest source of illicit drugs in the world.
In an annual survey of opium production released this week, the United Nations reported that Helmand province had produced 48 per cent more opium compared to its record-breaking crop last year.
Opium production in Afghanistan as a whole had reached a "frighteningly new level" at 8200 tonnes, 34 per cent higher than last year, the report said.
British troops sent to back up reconstruction efforts in Helmand have been pinned down in the volatile province by resurgent Taleban fighters, who have a stranglehold over the drugs trade, which is funding the resistance.
Although another record opium crop had been expected, the massive jump in the Helmand output since 2006 reflects the level of insecurity in the province, where the insurgency has deepened over the past year. British commanders have described the conflict as the most intense since the Korean war.
Alongside the fight against al Qaeda after the September 11 attacks in 2001, cutting opium production in Afghanistan was one of the main justifications for British involvement in military action in Afghanistan. Opium provides the raw material for heroin.
When he was Prime Minister, Tony Blair repeatedly referred to the fact that Afghan heroin accounts for an overwhelming proportion of the drug available on the streets of Britain and agreed to lead the international coalition's anti-narcotics effort. But yesterday the government was accused by its critics of "failing spectacularly".
"An astonishing 50 per cent of the whole Afghan opium crop comes from one single province: Helmand," said the UN office on drugs and crime in its report. Although cultivation of the opium poppy had decreased in parts of Afghanistan, "where anti-government forces reign, poppies flourish".
"With just 2.5 million inhabitants, this relatively rich southern province has become the world's biggest source of illicit drugs, surpassing the output of entire countries such as Colombia (coca), Morocco (cannabis) and Burma (opium) - which have populations up to 20 times larger."
The head of the UN agency, Antonio Maria Costa, said: "No other country in the world has ever had such a large amount of farmland used for illegal activity, beside China 100 years ago," when it was an opium producer.
He urged Nato to more actively support counter-narcotics operations. "Since drugs are funding insurgency, Afghanistan's military and its allies have a vested interest in destroying heroin labs, closing opium markets and bringing traffickers to justice. Tacit acceptance of opium trafficking is undermining stabilisation efforts."
Britain, which is boosting the number of troops in Helmand to a total 7700 by the end of the northern hemisphere summer, backs greater involvement by Nato in crop eradication, by providing protection and logistical help for Afghan forces involved in the effort.
Diplomats stressed however that British soldiers would not be directly involved in crop eradication.
Given the dramatic failure of the strategy in curbing the opium poppy cultivation, future policy is expected to focus more on forced eradication by a specialised Afghan unit. Britain has already announced an additional £22.5 million ($59 million) for the Afghan interdiction forces.
It is generally admitted that efforts led by the province's governor, Asadullah Wafa have been disappointing since he took on the job eight months ago.
Government corruption, particularly what Costa calls the Karzai administration's "benign tolerance of corruption" is also blamed for the explosion in the opium crop.
Last month Britain's all-party Commons Defence Committee issued a highly critical report on drugs eradication in Afghanistan, that warned that uncertainty among Afghans about the role of international forces could put service personnel at risk.
In a statement, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "The international community is united in its desire to prevent Afghanistan once again becoming a failed state."
He said that progress would be measured "across a wide range of activity - covering governance, reconstruction, economic development and the building up of local security forces."
A Foreign Office spokesman acknowledged that the figures for Helmand were "particularly disappointing".
The spokesman added that "ridding Afghanistan of this curse will take a generation, perhaps more - in Thailand and Pakistan it took 15 to 20 years. There are no short cuts to ending the drug trade and we must be wary of silver bullet solutions, which will not work. "