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U.S. Official Claims Progress Against Drug Trade in Afghanistan

Poppy production down by 30% over the past two years, but U.S. official admits a large drug problem remains

A change in tactics has led to some success in fighting Afghnistan's drug trade. But the problem continues to pose "a very big challenge" for the Obama administration.

“It’s a battleship that’s clearly turned over the course of last year,” says U.S. Assistant Secretary David Johnson of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

“We would hope and expect that to have more and more impact as we look forward,” says Johnson.

Johnson says poppy production in Afghanistan has declined by about 30% over the past two years. Poppy extract is used to produce opium and heroin.

The drug trade in Afghanistan, however, "remains a very large problem,” according to Johnson. Drug trafficking in Afghanistan has been linked to funding for the Taliban insurgency and terrorist activities around the world.

The Obama administration has reshaped its focus in fighting illegal trade in narcotics in Afghanistan. It has moved away from poppy eradication towards interdiction, institution building and creating alternative livelihoods for poppy farmers.

Johnson also credits the Afghan government for its efforts in the war on drugs. He notes the success of one particular program in Helmand Province, the leading poppy producing region in the country. Johnson said a combination of alternative livelihoods, economic support, government services and the threat of law enforcement have had a strong impact.

The U.S. and British governments have also spent millions of dollars in Afghanistan to get farmers to switch from growing poppies to cultivating other crops.