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US must focus on Afghanistan heroin trade

With so many Americans trying heroin each year, Congress and Obama must fund long-term efforts to curb poppy growing and the opium trade in Afghanistan, even after the US ends its combat role. This will also curb opium profits funding the Taliban.


An Afghan pomegranate seller displays his product during a World Pomegranate Fair in Kabul, Afghanistan. Officials hope to promote exports of the fruit to give farmers an alternative to growing poppies.

Rafiq Maqbool/AP Photo/File

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More than 100,000 Americans try heroin for the first time each year, and the number has risen over the past decade. That statistic is often overlooked in the debate over the future of Afghanistan, which is the source of 90 percent of the world’s heroin.

The most lethal export from Afghanistan isn’t terrorism by the Taliban or Al Qaeda, and may never be. It is heroin.

With President Obama now firming up the US role in that country over the next decade, he should make sure that Congress is on board with any long-term plan to support Afghan farmers. They are the ones who must be persuaded to grow high-value crops other than poppies (which yield the opium for making heroin).

Many nations have a stake in Afghanistan’s opium trade. Russia, where an estimated 1 million people are heroin addicts, has the biggest stake. It loses some 30,000 people a year to the drug. It is one reason Moscow is so concerned about the US role in Afghanistan after American combat troops leave in 2014. Much of Europe, where heroin use is also widespread, has an interest, too.

On May 20, NATO nations will meet in Chicago to seek an agreement on sharing the costs for supporting Afghanistan after 2014. To coax support from Europe, the United States and Afghanistan signed an initial agreement Sunday that broadly defines their strategic partnership for a decade. Details have not been released, but the pact implies a long-term commitment in both security and development assistance, perhaps as much as $3 billion a year.


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