By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, January 1, 2011; 3:33 PM
KABUL - U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, on a two-day visit here, said Saturday that her department plans to significantly bolster its activities in Afghanistan over the coming year, adding as many as 54 agents to the current contingent of 25.
Napolitano said her agency's work will focus on supporting border control and training Afghan officials in anti-smuggling techniques, with special emphasis on stopping illegal shipments of bulk cash. Smuggled cash is used to finance criminal activities and to hide profits gained from corruption and drug trafficking.
She told journalists at the U.S. Embassy here that the "significant increase in capability" by her department was intended to ensure a smooth transition from military to civilian oversight of border and customs control, anti-smuggling efforts and other operations as the United States begins to withdraw its troops over the next several years.
The cash, drugs, precious gems, historic artifacts and timber smuggled out of Afghanistan are a huge drain on its economy, with hundreds of millions of dollars a year leaving the country illegally. Many items exit Afghanistan by land, but bulk cash is often smuggled by air to Dubai and to other destinations. One prominent Afghan was stopped in Dubai last year with several suitcases stuffed full of cash.
Napolitano, who visited one of two main border-crossing points between Afghanistan and Pakistan on Friday, said her department is bringing in new experts from various U.S. agencies. Embassy officials said they will include former border patrol agents and enforcement officials.
The secretary met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other senior Afghan officials Saturday, including the finance and interior ministers. She said "real progress" had been made in improving border control and anti-smuggling operations in the past nine months.
"There is a growing number of vetted units, polygraphed units" of Afghan security agents who have been trained by U.S. law enforcement officers, she said.
Napolitano also said that while Afghan and U.S. officials are working together to shut down illegal smuggling, they are eager to facilitate legal trade and make Afghanistan into a transit hub for regional commerce.