Russia urges NATO to combat Afghan drug trafficking, offers to put ‘ring around’ country

By Alex Kennedy, AP
Sunday, June 6, 2010

Russia urges NATO to fight Afghan drug trafficking

SINGAPORE — Russia urged NATO forces in Afghanistan on Sunday to crack down harder on drug production and smuggling, and offered to help put a security ring around the country.

The international community should classify Afghan drugs as a threat to peace and security because they have become an important source of funds for the Taliban and other insurgent groups, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said in a speech.

Insurgents and international mafia groups are earning billions of dollars “from smuggling the drugs — which we call ‘white death’ — to Europe, Asia and America,” Ivanov told an Asia-Pacific security summit hosted by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies think tank.

Afghanistan supplies 90 percent of the world’s opium, the main ingredient of heroin, and is also the leading global supplier of hashish. According to the United Nations, the Taliban earn about $300 million a year from the opium trade.

“We are not happy with what the world community is doing in the anti-drug war” in Afghanistan, Ivanov said. He said the international community, especially “those who took responsibility for ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan,” should make a strong commitment to fight the threat.

Russia is ready to “make several counter-drugs rings around Afghanistan to intercept drugs,” he said, without elaborating.

The United States says it carrying on a major war against drugs in Afghanistan. Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, the commanding general in charge of U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, said recently that U.S. forces dealt a blow to the Taliban’s opium business by securing deals with poppy farmers to plant legal crops.

During the spring harvest, more than 17,300 acres (7,000 hectares) of poppies were swapped for legal crops around the farming community of Marjah, according to the Marine Corps.

Last year, opium seizures in Afghanistan soared 924 percent because of better cooperation between Afghan and international forces.

Ivanov said NATO forces must focus on Afghanistan’s social and economic development to give farmers of opium poppies a better alternative to drug production.

“If you burn down a poppy plantation, you need to invest in conventional agriculture,” Ivanov said. “A lot should be done to start very primitive social and economic life in Afghanistan.”

“If we don’t that, any military presence will be in vain.”

Ivanov said opium-based drugs such as heroin are flooding into Europe through Afghanistan’s northern border with Tajikistan. No visas are required to travel from Tajikistan to Russia, which means the drugs can flow easily through the open border, he said.

Drugs also go out through the western border into Iran, but Iranian authorities are active in cracking down on drug caravans, he said.

“The most popular is the northern route. It’s rather easy to cross the Afghan-Tajik border. As soon as you cross the Afghan-Tajik border, it’s easy to move it to Moscow, to London, to Paris, to Berlin, to elsewhere,” he said.

During the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989, drug production was minimal because the invading forces aggressively eliminated poppy production, Ivanov said.

He added that Russia will continue to provide logistics and intelligence to the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan but won’t commit fighting forces.

“Never again will a Russian soldier enter Afghanistan,” he said. “It’s like asking the U.S. whether they will send troops to Vietnam. It’s totally impossible.”

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