The United States ambassador to Kabul says that growing opium poppies instead of food is not only encouraging insurgent activity, but has also caused massive food shortages in Afghanistan. From Islamabad, Ayaz Gul reports.

U.S. ambassador to Kabul, William Wood, traveled to the southern Afghan district of Musa Qala this week and met with local authorities to urge them to stop growing poppies.

The Afghan district is one of the major poppy-growing areas. It was under the control of Taliban insurgents until a month ago when coalition and Afghan forces retook it in a major offensive.

Ambassador Wood told VOA by telephone from Kabul that during his trip to Musa Qala he held productive talks with the district governor, Mullah Abdul Salam, a former Taliban commander who defected to the government last month.

The ambassador says that among other things, he discussed anti-poppy efforts with the Afghan governor and informed him of the international concerns that farmers there are growing more opium poppies than wheat for the season's harvest.

"And in fact, in the case of Afghanistan much poppy is being grown on a land traditionally dedicated to growing wheat. So there is a direct relationship between poppy cultivation and the shortage of bread," he said.

It is widely believed that the unusual rise in the insurgent activity in southern Afghan region was being funded by income from poppy cultivation and drug trafficking. Ambassador Wood says that coalition forces have discovered millions of dollars worth of narcotics around Musa Qala since taking control of the region about a month ago.

"Huge amounts of drugs were found in the Musa Qala district after its liberation, also drug laboratories and other evidence that this is a center for both drug cultivation but also for drug organization in general," Wood said.

Overall, the U.S ambassador says that security situation is improving in Afghanistan and militant activity has declined.

"We believe that is directly related to the losses that they have suffered on the battlefield during 2007 and to perhaps diversion of some of their assets toward Pakistan, which is a source of concern to everyone," he said.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are important U.S allies in the war against terrorism. Ambassador Wood says that strong bilateral relations between the two countries will ensure regional peace and economic stability.