Record Opium Production in Afghanistan
The State/AP
By ANNE GEARAN - The Associated Press
March 1, 2008

WASHINGTON — The Taliban have built a huge and profitable drug operation in Afghanistan while provincial governors look the other way, the latest grim sign of backsliding in a country the U.S. has spent six years and billions of dollars trying to salvage.

A report Friday on drugs — saying Afghanistan now produces 93 percent of the world's opium poppy — comes amid a resurgence of Taliban militants despite U.S. anti-insurgent efforts. Also on the rise: terrorist violence such as roadside bombs, suicide bombings, and attacks on police.

The problems have worsened rather than diminished under the watch of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul and the relatively small number of American forces stationed in the nation while larger numbers are deployed to Iraq.

More than 6,500 people — mostly insurgents — died in violence in 2007, according to an Associated Press count of figures provided by local and international officials. It was the bloodiest year since the U.S.-led toppling of the Taliban in 2001.

Afghanistan risks becoming a failed state because of deteriorating international support and the growing insurgency, warned a recent independent study co-chaired by retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones and former U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering.

Just this week, the top U.S. intelligence official told Congress that President Hamid Karzai's government controls only 30 percent of the country.

The resurgent Taliban control 10 or 11 percent, while local tribes control the rest, National Intelligence director Michael McConnell said.

That's despite the $140 billion Congress has appropriated for Afghanistan since the Sept. 11 attacks that were the original reason given for U.S. involvement. Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is still at large, thought to have fled through Afghanistan's tribal lands to a hideout across the Pakistan border. The U.S. money has gone for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs and veterans' health care.

NATO Secretary General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer said Friday the alliance is committed to Afghanistan "for the long haul." The United States, which has some 28,000 forces in the country — both in the NATO-led mission and as part of a separate U.S.-led counterterrorism coalition — is sending an additional 3,200 Marines in April.

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