US OFFICIALS are holding Britain "substantially responsible" for the failure of a poppy eradication program aimed at curtailing Afghanistan's soaring heroin trade.
Britain has overall charge of the counter-narcotics assistance program, but the US has mounted a creeping takeover after last year's bumper poppy crop.
The eradication program is largely financed by US taxpayers, while Dynacorps, a US civilian security company, trains the Afghan force responsible for destroying the crops.
In a leaked communique to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the officials at the US embassy in Kabul said the British administration was to blame for a failure to reach the levels of eradication that they had hoped for.
They complained that the British were often targeting less important growing areas. Since beginning work last month, the eradication force has destroyed fewer than 102ha. The original target was 15,000ha.
The communique also criticised Afghan President Hamid Karzai for failing to take a strong line against opium farmers, partly for fear of a backlash in elections this year.
Mr Karzai, in Washington to meet US President George W.Bush, rejected criticism of his efforts, saying his Government had worked hard to eradicate poppy fields. He blamed Western countries for a lack of support.
Mr Karzai has committed himself to destroying the heroin trade, but favours an approach that concentrates on finding other crops.
Britain was put in charge of counter-narcotics efforts because most Afghan heroin ends up in Europe.
Britain prefers to find alternative livelihoods for farmers, but Washington favours aerial crop spraying.
Last month, the US-trained eradication force's first outing ended in fiasco and two deaths. The team was ploughing up a field when farmers threw themselves in front of the tractors.
The Afghan authorities later struck a deal whereby the farmers agreed to allow a third of their crop to be dug up in return for non-resistance.
The profits of the heroin trade, now at record proportions, fund many local commanders and warlords who object to Mr Karzai's rule.
At his meeting with Mr Bush, Mr Karzai is expected to demand that "very, very strong action" be taken against US soldiers who tortured two Afghan prisoners before leaving them to die.
He is also expected to ask that his Government be given greater control over US military activities in his country and that all remaining Afghan prisoners be handed over to Afghan control.
Tue, 24 May 2005
Source: Australian, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2005 The Australian