Afghans Tout Opium Crackdown

Anti-narcotics forces have confiscated 40 tons of opium this year in raids across Afghanistan, which has become the world's largest supplier of the raw material used to make heroin, an official said Thursday.

"We have had lots of success, especially this year," Gen. Mohammed Daoud, deputy interior minister for counter-narcotics, told reporters. "Operations are ongoing all over the country."

He said figures over the past three years--since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban--show police are now confiscating larger amounts of opium, from 3 tons in 2002 to more than 135 tons in 2004. The 40-ton figure was for the first five months of 2005, he said.

In one recent raid in the Achin district in western Afghanistan, drug forces confiscated 528 pounds of heroin and two tons of opium and destroyed 20 drug laboratories, Daoud said.

His comments came as Afghan President Hamid Karzai, currently in the United States, defended his government's efforts at fighting drugs amid warnings that the former al Qaeda haven is fast turning into a "narco-state."

He said his country could be free of opium poppies in five or six years.

However, a diplomatic cable sent May 13 from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul addressed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said a U.S.-sponsored crackdown on the narcotics industry had not been very effective, partly because Karzai "has been unwilling to assert strong leadership," according to a New York Times report Sunday.

The United States, Britain and other countries are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the anti-drug campaign. The cash is being used to train police units to destroy laboratories, arrest smugglers and destroy opium crops, as well as to fund projects to help farmers grow legal crops.
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