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article imageU.S. Admits Afghan War on Drugs is 'a Failure'

By Mark Kersten     Jun 28, 2009 in World
Destroying the poppy fields of Afghanistan has long been a controversial method in fighting the country's massive drug trade. But now, the American administration admits it has been "a failure" and is vowing to change its ways.
On the occasion of a G8 meeting on Afghanistan in Italy, American special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke was less than diplomatic in his assessment of targeting Afghanistan's poppy crops to hinder the Taliban and fight the drug trade, calling the policy the "least effective programme ever."
Instead, America would phase out poppy crop eradication and pursue a policy of "using the money to work on interdiction, rule of law, alternate crops."
There is little doubt that the production of drugs from poppy crops has helped the Taliban fund its activities in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan reportedly supplies over 90 percent of the heroin in the world, and much of that production is concentrated in the Southern regions of the country where the Taliban is strongest. However, the question regarding how to stop the drug trade, its funding of the Taliban while legitimizing Afghan farming has long been a point of contention.
The Senlis Council, for example, had recommended that in the short to medium term, Afghanistan's reliance on poppies should be resolved by making opiate-based painkillers such as morphine. Meanwhile, the United Nations estimates that since the mission in Afghanistan began in 2001, opiate output has risen forty-fold.
Despite such recommendations, the mission in Afghanistan continued to spend millions of dollars destroying poppy crops. But, as Holbrooke added, "Spraying the crops just penalises the farmer and they grow crops somewhere else."
Further, the policy has hindered, not helped, the prospects of success in Afghanistan. Holbrooke noted that "The hundreds of millions of dollars we spend on crop eradication has not had any damage on the Taliban...On the contrary, it has helped them recruit." He further told the Associated Press that "the U.S. policy was driving people into the hands of the Taliban."
According to Reuters, eradication of crops will still occur, but only in limited regions. As crop destruction is phased, the "emphasis will shift to intercepting drugs and chemicals used to make them, and going after drug lords."
The new direction was welcomed by officials from the other G8 countries and in the international community, many of whom felt the eradication of crops was deeply flawed.
Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the UN's Office of Drugs and Crimes said the policy had been a "sad joke...Sad because many, many Afghan policemen and soldiers ... have been killed and only about 5,000 hectares were eradicated, about 3 percent of the volume."
Afghan officials have yet to comment on change in policy.
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