Is Afghanistan's Heroin Financing Terror?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Feb. 10, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON: The heroin trade is apparently booming in Afghanistan with some of the profits going straight to Al Qaeda (search). Heather Nauert has more on the terrorist drug money and the hunt for Usama.

HEATHER NAUERT, FNC CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, John, two thirds of the world's opium, that's the main ingredient that is in heroin, comes from Afghanistan. Now two groups that are reportedly making a lot of money from it are Al Qaeda and the Taliban (search), one estimate putting their take at $150 million last year alone.

Congressman Mark Kirk (search) just returned from a fact-finding mission in Afghanistan. And he joins us from Washington for today's big question. Congressman Kirk, is the heroin trade currently financing Al Qaeda?

REP. MARK KIRK (R) ILLINOIS: It is. We have to update our intelligence picture of how Usama bin Laden funds terror. He used to depend on his own family's personal fortune and Wahabi (search) donations from Saudi Arabia. Since the financial control orders kicked in, that source of income has largely dried up. He has now become one of the world's number one sellers of heroin.

NAUERT: So exactly how much are we talking about here? We've got his figure of $150 million last year alone. How much of Al Qaeda's money, if you can estimate, is coming from the heroin trade?

KIRK: When I was in Afghanistan, I learned about one specific conduit to bin Laden's lieutenant. A drug dealer with connections to the Taliban... provides 2,000 kilograms of refined heroin every eight weeks to bin Laden's lieutenants. At the Pakistani price, that would give him at least a $28-million annual income. Also, the U.S. Navy in mid December seized three ships in the Arabian Gulf with Al Qaeda operatives aboard. They had methamphetamines, hashish and heroin. That was an attempt to reach the European markets where they could quintuple their profits to fund terror.

NAUERT: That is an incredible. Now I know the United States at least used to have some sort of eradication program. I believe it was where we would actually pay these farmers not to produce opium or kill their crops or something. What is the status of that?

KIRK: The United States and Britain — actually, Britain is the lead anti-drug effort from the international community in Afghanistan, will launch their effort later this month. I also learned something else. Mullah Omar, who used to be the Taliban dictator, was credited with eradicating poppy growing in Afghanistan in 2001, before 9/11. I knew that. What I learned when I was in Afghanistan was actually he had stockpiled 300 tons of heroin before issuing his eradication order. He cornered the market on heroin and he's been selling heroin the whole time. What we need is an international effort to come down on drug kingpins, much as we have done in Latin America. And we need to focus on the new source of financing for Al Qaeda, which is heroin.

NAUERT: Well, can you explain, then, how in the last few years, actually opium production has increased in Afghanistan? How has that been possible when we've had troops on the ground there and we have been focusing a lot more of our efforts certainly on the country of Afghanistan. How is it possible that there would be more heroin now?

KIRK: What happened is the Taliban presided over Afghanistan's production of heroin for many years. And they became the leading producer. For just one year, 2001, Omar cornered the market on heroin and wiped out production for that year. In the chaos that followed the war, opium production resumed again. We need an international effort to work with farmers to bring about alternative crops so they have a different income. And we need to come down hard on drug labs run by kingpins. There are two sets of drug kingpins in Afghanistan. One who are in it just for the money and one who are in it to finance terror. Our priority should be first on the kingpins that are using their profits to finance terror and then we follow-up with the kingpins that are in it just for the money.

NAUERT: OK, and just quickly, obviously our troops there have to work a lot with the locals to gather intelligence, to root out Al Qaeda, the Taliban and try to find bin Laden. I would imagine that our forces there have to work with some unscrupulous guys, overlook some drug deals in order to gather intelligence. You are a former intelligence officer. What do you think of that?

KIRK: Well, those initial alliances had to be made to depose the Taliban dictatorship. The new government there has its heart in the right place. It's brought schooling back to young girls in Afghanistan. It has made the commitments to eradicate the poppy trade. But they have very little money. The international community needs to help. And in this, we have a very strong ally. Ninety five percent of the heroin sold in London is from Afghanistan. Therefore, Prime Minister Tony Blair has made this the number one priority of the British government and their effort in Afghanistan.

NAUERT: All right.

KIRK: We need to work with the British to make sure that this is a success.

NAUERT: All right. Well, we'll keep coming back to you and figure out what the latest is on this. Congressman Kirk of Illinois. Thanks a lot.

GIBSON: Heather Nauert, thank you very much.

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