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Reuters News Service, July 12, 2005
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers told the Bush administration on Tuesday the program to fight Afghanistan's poppy trade appeared on the brink of failure, which they said would undermine work to stabilize the country and spread more drugs throughout the world.
Administration officials acknowledged disappointment in the program so far, but asked for patience in the effort they said would be long term and expensive.
"We are not only disappointed, but deeply concerned by our results to date," Nancy Powell, acting assistant secretary of state for the bureau of narcotics, told the House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid.
"I'm afraid our drug policy in Afghanistan has been an utter, abject, total failure," said Rep. Don Sherwood, a Pennsylvania Republican. "Whatever we've been doing flat hasn't worked, and I think it's a national disgrace."
Michigan Republican Rep. Joseph Knollenberg said even though Congress allocated about $1 billion last year to fight Afghanistan's poppy trade, the crop was at record levels and this year was on track for another bumper crop.
While officials had hoped to eradicate far more than the 2,220 acres of poppies done last year, Powell said bad weather and a lack of cooperation from local authorities resulted in the destruction of just 533 acres.
Rep. Jim Kolbe, the Arizona Republican who chairs the subcommittee, said the cost worked out to about $200,000 per hectare. "I hope that's not your measure of a successful program, is it?" he asked Powell.
She said the United States, along with Britain which leads the counter-narcotics program in the international effort to stabilize Afghanistan, "are trying to come up with some new approaches" to deter farmers from planting poppies.
Powell said they are focusing on building Afghanistan's own legal and law enforcement systems, working more closely with provincial authorities, poppy field eradication and promoting alternative livelihoods from the drug trade.
Experience in South America and Southeast Asia showed drug production can be reduced significantly, Powell said. "But I do believe it will take time and it's going to take considerably more resources."
Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, a California Republican, questioned "if we're applying any real imagination" and suggested the possibility of a long-term subsidy program for Afghan farmers to encourage alternative crops.
"The children of Europe are being killed by this addiction and it's not acceptable for us to let this go on," Lewis said of Afghanistan's drug trade which largely supplies Europe. "If we've got to subsidize the farmers, let's subsidize them."