August 17, 2006

NATO’s Jones appeals for help against Afghan drugs

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - NATO's top general appealed to the
international community on Thursday to do more to curb
Afghanistan's growing drug trade, which he said is helping
finance a resurgent Taliban and fueling instability.

"It certainly cries out for more international focus," said
U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, NATO's supreme allied
commander Europe.

Jones, briefing reporters at the Pentagon, also said NATO
troops who assumed control of security in volatile southern
Afghanistan on July 31 would aim to improve stability gradually
in the region in the coming months.

Afghanistan is experiencing its most violent period since
2001, with U.S. and NATO forces pitted against an insurgency
concentrated in the south and east.

"The international community understands that we have to
have more success in the narcotics field, and we have to do
that in the fairly near future," Jones said.

Ninety percent of the Afghan drug output is sold in Europe,
with profits used "to finance at least some part of the
terrorist organizations that are doing battle with us in
Afghanistan," Jones said.

Narcotics money is supporting violent drug cartels,
resurgent Taliban Islamic militants and possibly the al Qaeda
network, as well as contributing to tribal warfare, Jones said.

Jones said NATO and U.S. forces are not playing a direct
role in fighting the narcotics trade and will not carry out
eradication of opium poppies.

The United States has 22,000 troops and NATO 18,500 in
Afghanistan supporting the government of U.S.-backed President
Hamid Karzai.

Afghanistan is the world's leading source of opium and its
refined form, heroin, producing 87 percent of the global
supply. One quarter of Afghan opium is grown in volatile
Helmand province in the south, where violence has flared in
recent months.

The United Nations expects a surge in Afghan opium
production in 2006 due to persistent lawlessness.

The drug trade is considered a prime threat to U.S.-led
efforts to rebuild Afghanistan following the 2001 toppling of
the hard-line Islamist Taliban government that had harbored al
Qaeda, responsible for the September 11 attacks on America.

Jones acknowledged guerrilla attacks had increased, but
said that with the arrival of NATO troops the south will
"gradually over the next several months become a little bit
more stable."

The Taliban and drug gangs have operated unchecked in the
south for years and are putting up fierce resistance.

Guerrillas have used car and roadside bombs like those used
against U.S. forces in Iraq, and carried out assassinations.

Jones is due to retire from his NATO post and as head of
the U.S. military's European Command, most likely in December.