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US: Drug Trafficking Provides Major Income Source for Terrorists - 2004-04-21

U.S. officials in charge of worldwide counter-narcotics efforts have testified about the links between drug money and terrorist organizations. A House of Representatives committee heard Wednesday from a key Department of Defense official, and individuals responsible for counter-narcotics efforts in Asia and South America.

Congressional committees are trying to gauge how successful U.S. efforts have been, amid concern money being spent to battle narco-terrorists in Colombia, and opium production in Afghanistan, is not having enough impact.

Tom O'Connell is Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict. Whether in Afghanistan or Colombia, he says it's clear terrorist organizations are deriving significant amounts of their income from narcotics.

"We are increasingly aware of linkages between terrorist organizations, narcotics trafficking, weapons smuggling, kidnapping rings, and other trans-national networks," he said. Terrorist groups such as the FARC in Colombia, al-Qaida in Afghanistan, and groups around the world can finance key operations with drug money."

Mr. O'Connell says U.S. assistance aims to "systematically dismantle" trafficking networks to halt drug flows to the United States, and strengthen the war on terrorism.

However, some lawmakers are upset with what they view as inefficiencies in the counter-drug effort, particularly in Afghanistan. (Republican) Congressman Mark Souder, chairman of the House subcommittee dealing with drug policy, is frustrated by what he see as too much secrecy surrounding information about successes or failures there.

Congressman Souder responded to testimony by officials that much information on destroyed drug laboratories in Afghanistan and Colombia remains "classified."

"I have no desire to put anybody at risk and I understand it is politically difficult, but [Afghanistan] is a different type of battle than Colombia, at the same time, it is very hard for us to do oversight and to make arguments," he said. "e can see information but some of this information would seem to be public. Yes, it is politically sensitive when you attack these different labs or destroy different areas but so is it in Colombia, politically sensitive."

There was no one at Wednesday's hearing from the U.S. Central Command to speak about efforts in Afghanistan.

Brigadier General Benjamin Mixon, with the U.S. Southern Command, says Congress' support and funding for "expanded authorities" linking anti-terrorism and counter-narcotics programs in a place like Colombia, has been crucial.

"This legislation has allowed us to use funds that were once only available for strictly-defined counter-drug activities, to provide assistance to the government of Colombia for a coordinated campaign against the narco-terrorists and illegal armed groups that fuel the drug trade," he said. "Granting of expanded authority was an important recognition that no meaningful distinction can be made between the terrorists and drug traffickers in our region."

In other testimony, officials said the United States is moving to strengthen cooperation with key countries in Southeast Asia.

"We are bolstering an already well-established counter-narcotics program in Southeast Asia, where our Asian partners face a challenging combination of terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking, and a serious need for increased maritime security," said Assistant Secretary O'Connell.

"[We have been] targeting the countries specifically, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, all of which have groups of terrorists involved with a drug connection," added Rear Admiral David Kunkel, of the U.S. Pacific Command.

The hearing was part of congressional "oversight" of counter-narcotics programs run by the Pentagon, State Department and other government agencies.