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Afghanistan urges foreign troops to join anti-opium drive
4. September 2007, 12:39

KABUL (AFP) The Afghan government said it had asked international military forces based here to clear Taliban-led insurgents from opium-growing areas before Afghan troops move in to destroy poppy crops.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) made a similar call last month when it released a survey which showed that Afghanistan's opium production had shot up by a third over the past year to a record high.

Afghanistan's poorly armed police force cannot reach certain insurgency-plagued areas in the volatile south to eradicate poppy fields, interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said.

"For a new plan for this year, we've requested that the foreign military forces go and conduct military operations to enable us to eradicate poppy crops," Bashary said.

"In areas where there's insecurity, we need strong military support to be able to eradicate poppy fields. Police can't eradicate poppies and fight insurgents at the same time," he said.

Opium cultivation is highest in areas where the Taliban-led insurgency is the strongest and officials say the drug is financing some of the violence.

UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Costa has also called on the international military forces operating in Afghanistan under the NATO umbrella to help in the fight against opium, which is used to make heroin.

The forces have so far refused to get involved, a decision that was due for review this month.

"Since drug trafficking and the insurgency live off each other, the foreign military forces operating in Afghanistan have a vested interest in supporting counternarcotics operations," Costa said.

Afghanistan is now practically the exclusive supplier of the world's deadliest drug.

President Hamid Karzai last week accused the international community of failing in the anti-drugs efforts, saying the cultivation had dropped off in areas where his government had more sway.

One of his vice presidents, Ahmad Zia Massoud, said in the British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph that the government would resort to chemical spraying to destroy opium.

Karzai has previously rejected this option, citing potential health risks.

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