Hutchinson Laments Drug Enforcement Laxity in Afghanistan

Afghanistan's new government lacks the manpower to stop farmers from planting the raw material for opium, the Drug Enforcement Agency chief said Wednesday.

"Enforcement is where the gap is," said Asa Hutchinson, nominated by President Bush to become undersecretary of border and transportation security in the new Homeland Security Department.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has banned growing poppies, which are used to make opium. Hutchinson said there have been some successes: about one-quarter of the poppies have been eradicated, but he said efforts to eliminate the crops in Afghanistan has "largely failed." 

The Taliban, which captured the country in 1996, banned poppy growing four years later. Farmers resumed growing poppies after the U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban in 2001 in retaliation for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Hutchinson said poppy planting has reached pre-Taliban levels.

While traditional drug traffickers are handling the Afghan opium, some of the money may wind up in the pockets of terrorist groups, Hutchinson said.

"You sometimes see an intersection between those who are interested in terrorism and those who are interested in making a profit in drug trafficking," he said.

The agency is stepping up efforts to find and develop informants who can look not just for drug trafficking but terrorist activity, Hutchinson said. One tip led to the arrest in North Carolina of a person on the government's terrorist watch list, he said.

In addition, some terrorist groups are turning to drug trafficking as a source of money because of successful efforts to crack down on funding sources such as some Islamic charities and money transfers in the wake of Sept. 11, he said.