Obama Increasing DEA Presence in Afghanistan

Monday, 20 Jul 2009 01:19 PM

By Jim Meyers

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In a change of tactics, the U.S. is sending dozens of Drug Enforcement Administration agents to Afghanistan to target drug traffickers aiding the Taliban insurgency and corrupting government officials.

The number of DEA agents and analysts in Afghanistan will rise from 13 to 68 by September, and to 81 in 2010, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The Bush administration's strategy in Afghanistan centered on destroying the poppy fields that are the world's largest source of heroin. The war-torn country now accounts for more than 90 percent of the global heroin trade, according to the United Nations.

But the Obama administration believes the eradication efforts drove many farmers and tribal leaders into supporting the Taliban. So the U.S. is shifting to a campaign that will promote alternative crops for farmers and go after drug kingpins, some of whom belong to the Taliban.

The DEA will also target corrupt politicians who facilitate the drug trade.

Richard Holbrooke, America's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told Congress in June that the Obama administration's strategy was "interdiction, rule of law — going after the big guys. And those involve people in the government."

Former CIA agent Bruce Riedel, who chaired the administration's interagency policy review regarding Afghanistan, told the Times: "Our whole effort at developing security in Afghanistan was undermined by having a Ministry of Interior that was interested in facilitating the drug trade rather than combating it."

The U.S. and U.N. estimate that traffickers pay the Afghan militants as much as $500 million a year to protect the poppy fields and smuggle drugs.

The American military presence in Afghanistan could rise to 68,000 troops by the end of this year, more than twice the 32,000 at the end of last year.

But National Security Adviser James Jones recently told military commanders there are no plans to send additional troops to Afghanistan beyond that number, the Washington Post reported.

He said the focus there will be on economic development and reconstruction.

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