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Afghanistan Welcomes NATO Crackdown on Narcotics Infrastructure


Afghanistan's government is welcoming the NATO decision to have foreign troops in the country go after the narcotics infrastructure. That is a change from previous tactics when opium farmers were primarily targeted. VOA correspondent Steve Herman has details from Kabul.

The strategic decision by NATO to attack heroin manufacturing labs and drug dealers is being welcomed by Afghanistan's government.

Presidential spokesman Humayun Hamdizada tells VOA News the government is pleased NATO defense ministers decided to allow international forces here to target the illicit drugs infrastructure, including major smugglers and traffickers.

"In the past the entire counter-narcotics strategies were focused on punishing the farmers to which the Afghan government never agreed," he said.

Hamidzada adds Afghanistan will cooperate with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, known as ISAF, in the crackdown.

The effort is expected to focus on seven southwestern provinces where nearly all of Afghanistan's opium is produced. American, British, Canadian and Danish forces comprise the bulk of NATO troops operating in that part of the country.

An ISAF spokesman in Kabul says it is still unclear when such operations will commence.

Meanwhile, President Hamid Karzai on Saturday shuffled his Cabinet. He placed Hanif Atmar, a veteran minister with a clean reputation, as head of the corruption-riddled Interior Ministry.

The ministry oversees the poorly-regarded police and some of the ministry's ranking officials are alleged to be facilitating the lucrative narcotics trade.

The opium industry provides tens of millions of dollars of funding annually for the Taliban fighters, who oppose Afghanistan's democratic government.

U.S. military officials say American-led coalition and Afghan soldiers killed nine insurgents during overnight operations in Ghazni and Kandahar provinces. They say two of those who were killed were Taliban and al-Qaida commanders.

Here in Kabul, the country's intelligence service released a statement Saturday saying it recently thwarted a plot to use suicide bombers to free Taliban prisoners from a notorious jail on the outskirts of the capital. Authorities say three policemen were arrested for their alleged involvement. Officials believe the jailbreak would have resembled the assault four months ago on a Kanadahar prison which freed 900 prisoners, nearly half of them Taliban.

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