Washington (AFP) May 21, 2008
Afghan Islamic militants get some 40 percent of their revenue from the poppy harvest used in opium production, the head of the NATO forces in Afghanistan said Wednesday.
"There are some troubled provinces in the south, Helmand being one of them ... and I attribute this as much to the illegal cultivation of poppy as I attribute to the insurgents," General Dan McNeill told journalists.
"The insurgents get 20 to 40 percent of their fiscal resources from the illegal cultivation of poppy," he added in a video-conference from Kabul.
Pro-Taliban militants levy a tax from poppy growers and drug traffickers in return for providing protection, raising much needed cash in their fight against the 70,000 troops of the two multinational forces on the ground.
Afghanistan remains the world's top producer of opium, supplying some 8,000 tonnes last year, according to UN figures. The southern province of Kandahar and Helmand are the main growing areas.
"There are efforts ongoing in the international community to get this issue under control," said McNeill, but "the NATO mandate does not specify that the ISAF will be eradicating crops."
What was needed was "a clear and unambiguous statement by the government of Afghanistan" that they "will no longer tolerate" illegal poppy crops, he added.
The hardline Taliban militia was ousted from power in Kabul in 2001 by an international coalition, but the international forces on the ground had been fighting a bloody resurgence of the Taliban and their allies.
Fighting last year, involving homemade bombs and suicide attacks, claimed 8,000 lives.
earlier related report
Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said the allies agreed in telephone conversations with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates to extend their command rotations from nine to 12 months when Canada hands over command of the south to the Netherlands in November.
The agreement falls short of a proposal favored by General Dan McNeill, the commander of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, that a single country be put in charge of military operations in the turbulent south.
"I am in favor of a dialogue by the policymakers and the politicians about the consideration of one country leading a multinational headquarters in the south," McNeill told reporters in a videoconference earlier Wednesday.
Command of Regional Command-South, or RC-South, as the southern sector is known, rotates between Canada, the Netherlands and Britain. The United States will assume command there in November 2010, Morrell said.
"We believe that this new arrangement -- and our allies to as well, because they have agreed to it -- will provide greater predictability, continuity, stability in this volatile important region of Afghanistan," Morrell said.
McNeill and others have complained that the lack of continuity has undercut the effectiveness of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in the south.
Not only do the commands currently change hands every nine months, but European troops that serve in the sector rotate out every three to six months.
"It is sometimes a little difficult for them (the Afghan forces) to change from one culture to the next," McNeill said.
Morrell said the new agreement sets the command rotations through 2010, when the United States assumes command in the south. What happens after that, he said, "is still open to discussion."
Another key unresolved issue is whether to continue having two US four star generals responsible for the 33,000 US troops in Afghanistan.
General John Bantz Craddock, NATO's supreme commander, is responsible for the 50,000-strong ISAF, which includes 15,000 US troops.
General David Petraeus, who has been tapped to be the next head of the US Central Command, will be responsible for another 18,000 US troops conducting counter-terrorism and training missions in Afghanistan.
"That is probably the last large remaining issue to be dealt with, whether it makes sense to, sort of, dual hat a commander down there or keep the command divided," Morrell said.
"And that is something that is being discussed, has been discussed. There is no imminent movement on that," he said.
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