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US accuses Britain over Afghanistan's heroin crops

London Telegraph | May 23, 2005
By Francis Harris

American officials have accused Britain of being "substantially responsible" for the failure to make more progress in eradicating heroin production in Afghanistan, said a classified document published yesterday.

The three-page cable sent by the US embassy in Kabul to the State Department said the British-led campaign against the drug trade was selecting the wrong targets. It also accused British officials of refusing to alter their plans when asked to do so.

The document accused President Hamid Karzai of a failure of leadership, by offering only ineffective backing to the campaign.

The Afghan leader said he was unwilling to step up the attack on drugs until the international community makes good on promises to fund alternatives for Afghanistan's impoverished farmers.

That has angered US officials, worried by soaring heroin production and the possible creation of wealthy narco-terrorists.

The report said: "Although Mr Karzai was well aware of the difficulty in trying to implement an effective ground eradication programme, he was unwilling to assert strong leadership, even in his own province of Kandahar."

It related a recent US-led attempt to wipe out opium poppy fields in the area that encountered heavily armed resistance. Despite requests for assistance from Kabul, the force received "no support whatsoever from key members" of the government, "namely President Karzai".

The criticisms were leaked to the New York Times on the eve of the arrival in America of Mr Karzai, who will meet President George W Bush at the White House today.

The meeting had been expected to deal with the issue of the treatment of Afghan detainees by US forces. American newspapers last week published details of the deaths of two Afghans in custody three years ago, bringing condemnation from the Kabul government, human rights groups and the United Nations.

Jean Arnault, the UN's special representative in Afghanistan, said yesterday that the abuse of prisoners was "utterly unacceptable" and demanded that the US open its detention facilities for inspection.

Mr Karzai said as he departed for Washington that he had been deeply shocked by the prisoner abuse.

"We condemn it and we want the US government to take very, very strong actions to take away people like that working with their forces in Afghanistan."

The Afghan leader also said he would ask that all Afghan prisoners in American detention be handed over.

Mr Karzai remains a popular and even admired figure in Washington and the rows are unlikely to affect relations. The Afghan leader will also ask the US to establish permanent bases in his country.

Britain took responsibility for the anti-opium campaign because so much heroin finds its way on to the streets of the UK and Europe. An estimated 50 tons a year reaches Europe, with another 20 tons shipped to the US.

British teams concentrate on programmes designed to lure farmers away from growing the crop rather than wiping it out. The Americans are more keen to destroy the fields altogether.

Washington is playing a larger role in the campaign, a sign of its disappointment with the results from the British programme, and has put aside $260 million (£142 million) for the purpose.

The Foreign Office would not comment on the leak, but a spokesman said that while the battle to eradicate poppy growing was "challenging", Britain was spending tens of millions of pounds on Afghan anti-drugs efforts and was committed to the task.


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