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US Afghan poppy drive a 'failure'
24. January 2008, 05:21

BBC News - A former US ambassador to the United Nations has criticised President George Bush's attempts to eradicate the opium poppy fields in Afghanistan. Richard Holbrooke has described the US policy as "spectacularly unsuccessful".

The administration is "wasting" around $1bn annually on a programme which actually encourages farmers to support the Taleban, he says.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, only 13 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces are "poppy free".

The problem is specially acute in the unstable south of the country.

'Ineffective'

Writing a column in The Washington Post newspaper, Mr Holbrooke says Mr Bush's vocal support in the last two years for aerial spraying of poppy fields highlighted what was wrong with the US policy.

Mr Bush's remarks "are part of the story behind the spectacularly unsuccessful US counter-narcotics program in Afghanistan", he says.

Mr Bush backed down from backing aerial spraying because the Afghan government and the international community argued it would "create a backlash against" Kabul and Washington.

"But even without aerial eradication, the programme, which costs $1bn a year, may be the single most ineffective programme in the history of American foreign policy," Mr Holbrooke writes.

"It's not just a waste of money. It actually strengthens the Taleban and al-Qaeda, as well as criminal elements within Afghanistan," he writes.

With the Taleban insurgency still raging, counter-narcotics teams in Afghanistan have been unable to make any impact on the poppy problem in the south.

Experts say stopping poppy production requires more than just laws.

The authorities have to also provide alternative livelihoods for the cultivators and build access to markets and education, among other things - things which are very difficult to deliver in an unstable environment.

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