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US changes course on Afghan opium, says Holbrooke

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The United States is changing course on anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan, a senior official said Saturday, shifting its focus from the destruction of opium poppies to fighting drug traffickers and promoting non-narcotic crops among Afghan farmers who depend on the poppy harvest for survival.

Many analysts criticized the old policy for ignoring the economic logic that draws Afghan farmers to opium production, and said destroying their crops was no way to win their hearts and minds.

Opium is used to make heroin, and although Afghan production has dropped 19 percent in the past year, it still produces 93 percent of the world supply, according to the Associated Press. Most of that production happens in the south, where support for the Taliban is highest, generating between $50 and $70 million annually for the group, according to UN estimates.

Poppy eradication has been a tenet of US policy in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001. But speaking to reporters at a G8 summit on Afghanistan in Italy on Saturday, US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke called it "a waste of money," says the AP.

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