Afghanistan Advised on Fighting Drug Trade

By MATTHEW PENNINGTON
The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 2, 2006; 1:05 AM

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Anti-drug police from Colombia have been touring Afghanistan to advise it on how to combat its booming illegal drug trade, officials said Tuesday.

A five-member team from Colombia, the world's leading producer of cocaine, has spent 10 days meeting counternarcotics police and officials around Afghanistan, the top heroin-producing nation.

Lt. Col. Oscar Atehortua, the chief of the Colombian team's drug interdiction unit, said they had been sharing their "expertise and experience" from 30 years of battling drugs and terrorist groups involved in the illicit trade, and may help train Afghans in the future.

"The problem you have here is very similar to what we have in Colombia," Atehortua said. "After a lot of mistakes in the war against drugs in our country, now we have a very good counternarcotics unit ... that is seizing a lot of drugs that are coming out of our country."

Last year, Colombian security forces confiscated a record 245 tons of cocaine, but U.S. drug officials believe that's no more than 20 percent of the total successfully smuggled out of the country. Cultivation in Colombia of coca, the plant used to make cocaine, has dropped sharply since its peak in 2000, but has recently started increasing again.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in Western counternarcotics aid has yet to make a major impact in Afghanistan, which last year produced nearly 90 percent of the world's opium _ enough to make about 450 tons of heroin.

Officials say the trade is fueling the Taliban-led insurgency wracking the south of the country.

Colombia has used aerial spraying of herbicides in its U.S.-backed war to destroy coca crops, an approach rejected so far in Afghanistan because of strong domestic opposition due to the impact it could have on the struggling rural economy.


© 2006 The Associated Press