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Afghan fighters processing opium to boost drug profits: US official

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May 8, 2007

BRUSSELS (AFP) – Taliban insurgents and armed Afghan groups are processing opium in makeshift laboratories to maximise drug profits and better fund the fight against Western forces, a top US drug official said Monday.

US drug control policy director John Walters said the groups, sometimes with the help of corrupt government officials, are then shifting the heroin to outside networks which move it on through Iran or Pakistan and into Europe.

“These processing centres have moved around,” he told reporters during a visit to Brussels for talks with European Union and NATO officials, generally in southern provinces like Helmand, Kandahar and Nimroz.

“These labs are not places with beakers and glass-ware. They are essentially cans and pans of chemicals and opium that are mixed up in a kind of dirty kitchen, or a garage where you’re changing your oil,” he said.

“It’s not hard to move that around.”

Afghanistan produces more than 90 percent of the world’s opium and according to United Nations figures production for 2006 was to increase to a record 6,100 tonnes, after an “alarming” jump in the lawless south.

Opium poppies needs little water and is easy to grow and transport in the drought-stricken country. It is also a major source of funds for the Taliban, which were ousted from power by a US-led coalition in late 2001.

“One of the reasons, aside from the profit, they can benefit by processing the heroin inside the country is that they gain maximum value … for the product as it crosses their border out of their hands,” Walters said.

It is then handled by international networks.

“The bulk of it looks like it goes out of Afghanistan through Iran, and being smuggled across the border through Pakistan (and) up via sea routes, and through in some cases Turkey, and into the nations of Europe,” he said.

Some heroin also moves into Russia and increasingly through China.

He said the Afghan heroin industry, once legal under the Taliban, does not rely on large and powerful structures like the cartels in South America.

“There seems to be a more diverse underlying infrastructure here that involves some key people in Afghanistan, key people in some of the other countries,” he said.

Corruption is also an important factor.

“We still have problems of corruption, the use of this money to compromise political officials or have some powerful, wealthy political individuals who may be involved in the drug trade,” he said.

And despite what he said was the progress made by President Hamid Karzai’s government, Afghanistan’s police and justice infrastructure was still far from being ready to cope with the problem.

“I frankly feel that it will be some time before they are able to handle some of the most powerful individuals but they are starting to gain confidence,” he said.

In the meantime, The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), with around 37,000 troops from 37 nations, is trying to provide the stability needed for economic growth: the best arm for killing the industry.

“We are trying to continue the progress to take provinces away from the poppy economy, away from the rule of armed groups, whether they are war lords, drug traffickers or terrorists,” Walters said.

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Written by afghandevnews

May 9, 2007 at 4:02 am

Posted in Drugs

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