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US Concerned Over Afghan Opium Crop - 2002-03-13

The head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency says it may be too late to stop Afghanistan's bumper crop of opium poppy from being harvested. The Bush administration says Afghanistan is just weeks away from harvesting a substantial amount of poppy, even though the interim government of Hamid Karzai has said it would not tolerate such cultivation.

Drug Enforcement Agency Administrator Asa Hutchinson testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee Wednesday.

He cited figures from the United Nations drug control program showing poppy cultivation could reach up to 65,000 hectares, producing up to 2,700 metric tons of opium this year.

"It is of great concern to the United States," he said, "and particularly to the DEA, the cultivation and production estimates indicate that Afghanistan has the capability to return and continue as one of the largest opium producers in the world, even though the chairman of the provisional government has supported the eradication of opium and poppy cultivation, and a ban on that cultivation.

Mr. Hutchinson said the United States is considering offering financial and other incentives to farmers to plow under their fields before harvest. But he acknowledges it may be too late to intercept this year's crop. "It is very difficult to be able to get everything done in time to intercede with the next crop," he said. Mr. Hutchinson said a main reason for that difficulty is the lack of security in Afghanistan. "We cannot have a successful operation in Afghanistan to reduce the warehouses, the supply, the transportation of this heroin without building a good law enforcement component in Afghanistan, without the DEA being physically present there," he said. "There are security concerns. This is an enormously dangerous neck of the woods." Mr. Hutchinson said Afghanistan's former ruling Taleban militia and Osama bin-Laden's terrorist al-Qaeda network used Afghan drug profits to support terrorism.

Rand Beers, who serves as the assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, said the administration is nearing completion of a long-term anti-drug strategy for Afghanistan. He said such a strategy will include money for crop replacement and development projects.

Last month, the Bush administration identified Afghanistan as among those countries that failed to cooperate in anti-drug efforts. But President Bush gave the country a waiver to allow it to receive U.S. aid because of American national security interests.

Stopping poppy cultivation and opium production has become a key aim of U.S. reconstruction policy in Afghanistan. In the late 1990s, Afghanistan produced about three-quarters of the world's opium supply.