World

Afghan-U.S. force seizes 50 tonnes of opium

Afghan officials said a joint U.S.-Afghan operation seized 50 tonnes of opium and killed 17 Taliban on Wednesday, the same day Russian officials criticized anti-drug efforts in the region.

Afghan officials said a joint U.S.-Afghan operation seized 50 tonnes of opium and killed 17 Taliban on Wednesday, the same day Russian officials criticized anti-drug efforts in the region as inadequate.

A spokesperson for the Afghan defence ministry told new agencies on Wednesday the operation in the southern Helmand province also led to the seizure of 1.8 tonnes of heroin, 30 tonnes of fertilizer and large supplies of ammunition and weapons.

The fertilizer was reportedly of a type used to manufacture improvised explosive devices, the main weapon of the Taliban and the leading cause of casualties among Canadian and other NATO forces.

Three Taliban members were also captured during the two-day operation.

Helmand province, just west of Kandahar, is the world's largest opium-producing region. NATO officials believe that 40 per cent of the proceeds from the drug trade are used to fund the insurgency.

Influx of drugs coming to Russia

The seizure of opium comes on the same day Viktor Ivanov, the head of Russia's drug control agency, said the United States and NATO could be doing more to stop the production of opium and heroin in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan provides more than 90 per cent of the heroin consumed in the world, and the bulk of it flows through ex-Soviet Central Asia and Russia. The movement of drugs from Afghanistan through Russia has also fuelled a surge in addiction rates and has been a key factor in the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Russia has between 2 million and 2.5 million addicts, with about 30,000 dying each year from drug overdoses, according to Russian drug officials.

Ivanov said he recently spoke to U.S. officials about beginning a program of spraying herbicide from the air to eradicate Afghanistan's fields of opium poppies.

"I hope that our open-minded dialogue will encourage the U.S. to take more adequate measures," Ivanov said.

Efforts at chopping down or seizing crops have also not had a noticeable effect on the drug trade, he said.

A United Nations report found that the amount of land planted with opium poppies in Afghanistan dropped 36 per cent between 2007 and 2008, but production fell only 10 per cent, due to improved growing techniques.

With files from the Associated Press