By Gerry J. Gilmore
WASHINGTON, Oct. 5, 2006 – Powerful drug lords constitute a growing threat to security and stability efforts in Afghanistan, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe said here yesterday. NATO forces pummeled Taliban insurgents in recent stand-up fighting in southern Afghanistan, Marine Gen. James L. Jones said yesterday at a Council on Foreign Relations meeting.
However, Jones told council members and reporters, the Taliban aren't the only problem, and he noted another, growing threat to Afghan stability.
"The narcotics cartels have their own army and their own capabilities," he pointed out. "They're conducting a massive exploitation effort."
Drug czars want to continue making millions from Afghanistan's opium-poppy crops, explained Jones, who's also commander of U.S. European Command. About 90 percent of Afghanistan-originated narcotics end up in drug marketplaces across Europe, he noted.
The narco-traffickers coerce Afghan farmers and officials through violence or bribery to ensure that the drugs reach their markets, he said.
The drug cartels also seek to insulate their Afghan operations from scrutiny by purchasing "protection" services from criminals and renegade tribes. These groups also stir up trouble that diverts government attention, Jones said.
NATO and allied military forces in Afghanistan "do not have a leading role" in the country's anti-drug efforts, Jones acknowledged. That task, he said, is left to the Afghan government and various anti-drug agencies.
However, counter-drug efforts in Afghanistan are flagging, the general said, acknowledging, "We're losing ground."
Jones said he doubts there's "any one solution" to Afghanistan's drug troubles. Some of the supply-side battle needs to be fought in Europe, he said.
Yet, whatever strategy is adopted in combating drugs coming out of Afghanistan, the issue "is definitely something that has to be addressed and has to be addressed more effectively than we've done so far," Jones said.