American authorities plan a broad new campaign to choke off the prime financing for terrorists in Afghanistan, sending in dozens of federal drug agents to disrupt the country's opium trade and the money that flows to the Taliban and al-Qaida.
The surge, which would boost the number of anti-drug officials inside Afghanistan from a dozen to nearly 80, would bolster a strategy laid out last week by the Obama administration to use U.S. and NATO troops to target “higher level drug lords.”
Plans described to members of Congress behind closed doors this month suggest the effort will be modeled after the federal Drug Enforcement Administration's campaign against drug cartels in South America. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., who chairs the House Armed Services terrorism subcommittee, said the DEA's effort aims to cripple the Afghan narcotics networks by driving up the costs of the opium trade.
Unveiling his new strategy for Afghanistan last week, President Obama said the country's economy “is undercut by a booming narcotics trade that encourages criminality and funds the insurgency.”
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As the U.S. beefs up its military and civilian presence there, Obama said, officials will track the growth of the Afghan illicit narcotics production as one measure of progress.
The strategy review called the drug trade the major driver of corruption in Afghanistan, and said allied forces must support local counternarcotics efforts to destroy drug labs, equipment and caches. It also urges efforts to identify other agricultural programs for Afghan farmers to replace their dependency on the illegal drug trade.