Global Policy Forum

UN Urges NATO to Hit at Afghan Drugs


By Judy Dempsey

International Herald Tribune
September 12, 2006


Antonio Maria Costa, the United Nations anti-drug chief, urged NATO on Tuesday to take "robust military action" to destroy Afghanistan's opium industry. Costa said alliance forces should destroy heroin laboratories, attack opium convoys and arrest drug dealers who operate with increasing impunity because the police, district leaders and army officials are corrupt.

But with NATO already struggling to provide enough troops to combat a revived insurgency in the south and most alliance members openly opposed to burning poppy fields or heroin laboratories, Costa's plea is unlikely to be met.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the NATO secretary general, said of the anti-drug proposal, "I don't seek this role," adding that "it is not the approach" to take. Further, using NATO forces to burn poppy fields would risk alienating local communities whose livelihoods depend on the opium trade.

Since British, Canadian and Dutch troops took control of operations in southern Afghanistan in July, they have been involved in intense fighting with Taliban insurgents almost daily. General James Jones, NATO's top commander, will hold a special "force generation" conference Wednesday at the alliance's military headquarters in Belgium. Jones said last week that although member states had supplied 8,000 troops so far, 2,500 more were needed. He also warned that contributions of helicopters and transport planes were lagging. Several countries have already said they will not dispatch further forces to Afghanistan. They include France and Turkey, which instead are sending significant numbers of soldiers to the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, which Costa heads, Afghanistan's opium harvest this year was a record 6,100 tons, an increase of 49 percent over 2005. Over the same period, opium poppy cultivation increased by 59 percent to 165,000 hectares, or 400,000 acres. Only 6 of the country's 34 provinces were opium-free.

Costa said there was a "major institutional problem" in tackling the drug problem. "There is corruption in the police," he said. "There is corruption among district leaders. There is corruption among military commanders. If you look at the south of the country, it is out of control."

NATO officials said the alliance was doing every possible within its mandate to help the Afghan government implement an anti-narcotics strategy. James Appathurai, a NATO spokesman, said: "NATO's mandate is from the UN. It is the Afghan government, not NATO, which has the lead role in counternarcotics. We play a robust supporting role, as we have been assigned to do."

Appathurai said NATO was providing transport, intelligence and rescue missions for Afghan forces and was also working with Russia to train Afghan anti-narcotics officials in Afghanistan and in neighboring countries.

Costa said that in the south, the Taliban, warlords and drug traffickers were acting in collusion. "They want to maintain control there," he said, adding, in a reference to local mercenaries recruited to fight NATO forces, "With drug money, they buy weapons and pay foot soldiers. The Taliban pay between $10 and $12 a day for foot soldiers. The legitimate economy pays about $2 a day." He said that while it was up to the Afghan government to take the lead in anti-narcotics programs, the military, economic and political institutions had to be better coordinated.

"Counterinsurgency and counternarcotics efforts must reinforce each other so as to stop the vicious circle of drugs funding terrorists and terrorists protecting drug traffickers," he said.





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