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Report Says Drug Trade in Mexico, Afghanistan, Threatens US National Security

A U.S. State Department report Friday said drug trafficking in Mexico and the opium trade in Afghanistan pose significant national security threats to the United States. Some progress against the drug trade was reported in both countries.

The State Department report on the global drug trade is the first to be issued under the Obama administration. And it paints a grim picture of the situation in Mexico, where clashes between security forces and drug traffickers, and fighting among rival drug gangs, have killed more seven thousand people since the beginning of last year.

The State Department's annual International Narcotics Control Strategy report said Mexico is the source for as much as 90 per cent of the cocaine entering the United States and most of the heroin, marijuana and methamphetine.

Driven by U.S. demand for drugs, much of the violence is in Mexican cities along the United States border and it has spilled over across the border, with the report citing an increase in contract killings and kidnapping on U.S. soil by Mexican gangs.

Nonetheless at a news briefing, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law enforcement David Johnson said anti-narcotics efforts by the government of Mexican President Felipe Calderon are proving effective, backed by large-scale U.S. aid under the Merida Initiative of the Bush administration.

"What you see is a government, a courageous government led by President Calderon, that is confronting these drug cartels and limiting their ability to do their business. They (drug gangs) are confronting each other. And the result is unfortunately is a significant level of violence," he said.

The report identified 20 countries, including Mexico, Afghanistan and Pakistan as major producers and transit points for illegal drugs and it said among that group, Burma, Bolivia and Venezuela have failed demonstrably to adhere to international narcotics control agreements, raising the possibility of U.S. sanctions.

Assistant Secretary Johnson expressed disappointment over the anti-drug effort of Bolivia, cited as the world's third largest producer of cocaine. The report says counter-drug cooperation declined last year as President Evo Morales expelled U.S. drug enforcement advisers.

Venezuela's anti-drug cooperation was described as minimal, with Johnson saying that drug trafficking from Colombia and other countries, through Venezuela, is on the rise. "The real challenge that we face in Venezuela is the use of the territory of Venezuela, particularly along the coastal region in the west, adjacent to Colombia, where significant quantities of cocaine are shipped out to the Caribbean in the direction of the United States but also significantly and growing to the east to West Africa and upward into Europe," he said.

The report said opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, the worlds largest producer, dropped by nearly 20 per cent due to poor weather, price declines and improved governance in some provinces.

Johnson said while the number of poppy-free provinces in Afghanistan increased from 13 to 18 last year, more leadership is required from the Kabul government to fight corruption and curb the drug trade, which finances the country's insurgency.