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. Poppy crop in Afghanistan to jump 40 percent this year: State Department
WASHINGTON (AFP) Sep 24, 2004
Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, the world's leading supplier of illicit opium, morphine and heroin, is expected to jump by 40 percent this year, a State Department official said Thursday.

The CIA's counternarcotics center had estimated the crop last year at 61,000 hectares (150,000 acres).

"My guess is this year, although the numbers are not in and they will be released in the next several weeks, it is probably 100,000 hectaresacres)," Robert Charles, the assistant secretary of the bureau of international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, told a congressional hearing.

Opium production this year could see a 20 to 40 percent jump, he said.

"On the narcotics front, tied like a ball-and-chain to security, justice and economic development, we stand in the darkness of a long shadow," Charles said.

Without security, crucial eradication efforts -- led by the British, central to the Afghan government and balanced on American support -- "cannot rise to the necessary level to deter poppy cultivation.

"Without tackling eradication, as well as heroin lab and warehouse destruction with a vengeance -- without a full throttle-up way of looking at stopping narcotics -- the overall security situation will not get better fast," he said.

US-backed Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, who faces crucial elections October 9, had repeatedly listed drug trafficking and corruption as among the top threats to his landlocked country's long term security and future.

The trade of narcotics from Afghanistan has spiralled since the ouster of the harsh Taliban regime in late 2001, sparking warnings from the United Nations that the country could turn into a failed narco-state.

A bumper crop last year generated 2.3 billion dollars and produced three-quarters of the world's heroin, including 90 percent of the heroin in Europe.

US officials say it was essential for coalition forces in Afghanistan to pool their resources to check drug cultivation before any foreign troops left the country.

Any "exit strategy," according to Charles, involved "not only more and better police, timely elections, wider economic development and a reliable justice sector but a unified, all-out effort to rob the forces of instability and terror of the money they gain through heroin production."

Pentagon official Peter Rodman told the hearing on that the past year witnessed record levels of poppy cultivation in areas previously not used for this purpose.

"The narcotics trade is endangering coalition success in Afghanistan and corrupting Afghan governmental institutions that we are helping to build," said Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

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