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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Afghanistan Drugs Increasing Despite US Effort

Afghanistan's opium poppy crop grew by 50 percent in 2006 to a record level despite increased eradication and other U.S. efforts, according to a government watchdog agency.

"The worsening security situation and the lack of Afghan capacity are tremendous challenges to the success of U.S. counternarcotics programs in Afghanistan," says a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress. "The security situation continues to decline; during the 2005-2006 growing season, eradicators were attacked several times and alternative livelihoods project personnel were killed. Moreover, due to Afghanistan’s lack of infrastructure, educated populace, and functioning governmental institutions, significantly reducing poppy cultivation and drug trafficking is expected to take at least a decade."

The United States invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime in 2001, following the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks. The Taliban was providing a safe haven for terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

The US Agency for International Development and State Department received about $532 million in fiscal year 2005 funds and initiated a number of projects under each of their counternarcotics pillars, but delays in implementation limited progress, GAO says.

To combat the drug trade, the U.S. government developed a counternarcotics strategy consisting of five pillars: alternative livelihoods, elimination and eradication, interdiction, law enforcement and justice, and public information.

USAID and State have made efforts to oversee the use of funds, including the use of self certifications, contract clauses, and vetting, when applicable.

"However, a lack of official records and reliable information limited efforts to vet Afghan nationals," GAO says. "In addition, although USAID and State have made efforts to monitor ongoing projects, security concerns and poor infrastructure limited site visits."

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