BRUSSELS: US efforts to combat the Afghan opium trade, a main source of funds for Taliban-led insurgents, have been wasteful and Washington plans to revamp its strategy, a regional envoy says.
"The United States alone is spending over $US800 million [$1.17 billion] a year on counter-narcotics. We have gotten nothing out of it, nothing," Richard Holbrooke told senior world politicians and experts on Saturday.
"It is the most wasteful and ineffective program I have seen in 40 years in and out of the government," the new US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan told the Brussels Forum conference.
"We are going to try to reprogram that money. About $US160 million of it is for alternative livelihoods, and we would like to increase that. We want to re-examine it top to bottom."
The US Government said last month that Afghanistan remained the world's largest opium poppy producer, despite a 19 per cent drop in cultivation last year.
Afghanistan supplies 90 per cent of the world's heroin, much of which emanates from the southern province of Helmand, where insurgents are waging a bloody campaign against Western and Afghan forces. Several districts are outside government control and involved in opium poppy cultivation, which has evolved into a highly lucrative trade for the insurgents.
Mr Holbrooke said some crops had been destroyed but this had no real impact on the insurgents, and may have even been counter-productive.
"It hasn't hurt the Taliban one iota because whatever money they're getting from the drug trade, they get whatever they need whether we reduce the acreage or not," he said. "And by forced eradication we've all been pushing farmers into Taliban hands."
He said the US would focus heavily on agriculture reform. The President, Barack Obama, has ordered an overhaul of strategy in Afghanistan, a review expected to be completed in coming days.
Mr Holbrooke said it was planned to implement "a very significantly expanded agricultural sector job-creation set of programs - irrigation, farmer to market roads, market places, seed".
"This is an area of great promise. Rebuilding the Afghan economy is critical," he said.
March 23, 2009
Sydney Morning Herald
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