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US Calls On NATO to Target Afghanistan Opium Trade

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday called on NATO allies to step up efforts against Afghanistan's opium trade.

His call came as U.S. newspapers say a preliminary report from the U.S. Intelligence community has concluded the war in Afghanistan is "in a downward spiral". The report blames rampant official corruption and the country's drug trade for crippling government efforts to fight the Taliban.

Speaking at a NATO allies defense minister's conference in Budapest, Mr. Gates would not comment directly on the newspaper report but he said anti-drug interdiction efforts could hurt Taliban militants, saying he will seek increased funding to target drug traffickers and narcotics laboratories.

Some NATO allies such as Germany have expressed reservations about getting involved in fighting the opium trade, saying their troops could become overstretched and the effort could alienate the local population.

Mr. Gates says his push for expanded drug-interdiction is part of a broader effort aimed at developing a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan. NATO estimates that the Taliban receives about $80 million a year in income from Afghanistan's opium trade.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.