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The International Herald Tribune - May 21, 2006 by Judy Dempsey BERLIN - Warning that Afghanistan was on the brink of becoming a narco- state, NATO's top military commander in Europe said Friday that drug cartels were now more dangerous for the country's future than a resurgent Taliban. In an interview in Berlin, General James Jones also warned that there was insufficient awareness of the scale of the drug problem in Afghanistan, particularly in Europe, where 90 percent of Afghanistan's heroin ends up. "Afghanistan is teetering on becoming a narco-state," said Jones, who was appointed commander of NATO and the U.S. forces in Europe in 2003. "It is not the resurgence of the Taliban but the linkage of the economy to drug production, crime, corruption and black market activities which poses the greatest danger for Afghanistan." But despite the growing narcotics trade - poppy production has returned to the high levels of production of the mid-1990s, before the Taliban took power - Jones said: "You will not see NATO soldiers burning poppy fields. This is not our mandate." Jones's comments came amid a surge in violence in Afghanistan. More than 100 people were reported killed in a series of attacks that started Wednesday and continued through Thursday, among them a U.S. State Department counternarcotics trainer who was killed in a suicide bombing in Herat, in western Afghanistan. NATO, which already has 8,900 soldiers based in the north and west after first entering the country in 2002, will in July send an additional 9,000 troops to the south as part of its strategy to extend government control throughout the country, improve security and assist humanitarian and reconstruction efforts. The fighting of the past few days was concentrated in southern provinces. Amid the preparations to deploy the NATO troops, including forces from Canada, Britain and the Netherlands, Taliban and other fighters stepped up attacks. On Thursday, from 80 to 90 insurgents were killed in Kandahar and Helmand provinces in fighting with U.S. and Afghan forces. While acknowledging that the number of attacks had increased in recent weeks, Jones said that Afghanistan was "not backsliding into chaos." Instead, he said, the insurgents were testing the NATO alliance in areas where drug cartels, organized criminal groups, tribes and remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda knew they were going to be dislodged. "They want to see if NATO is up to the test," said Jones, a former U.S. marine commander. "The Taliban and Al Qaeda are not stupid people. They want to see what they are up against. We are going into place where the scope for crime and narcotics will be dislodged." He continued: "The troops which will be sent to the southern region will have no restrictions. This is a good, capable and robust force." Britain, which under the new deployment will command NATO forces in the south, has been in charge of Afghanistan's counternarcotics efforts since 2002, under a civilian program agreed upon by the United Nations. But Jones said there was insufficient awareness and cooperation, particularly in Europe, over the scale of the drugs problem. "Over 90 percent of the heroin from Afghanistan is for Europe," he said. In addition, Jones said, the Afghan police, which are being trained by Germany, and the judiciary, being trained by Italy, have not been tough enough in cracking down on the drug cartels. Jones also said the police, especially those outside the cities, were often unpaid and poorly trained. The judiciary was often corrupt, operating "a revolving door policy" in which rebels were released from prison only to return to the fight, he said. "We have to do more with the police and law and order," Jones said. "Germany and Italy have not done enough. You need more resources." The general said that NATO had started cooperating with Tehran in attempts to prevent armed drug convoys from crossing into Iran en route to Russia and then Europe, despite the lack of any formal diplomatic ties between the United States and Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. "Iran had voiced its concern about the drug trafficking," Jones said. "Six months ago, Iran had little idea what NATO was doing on border. But now the relationship is compatible." "Iran now sees what we are doing on the Afghan side of the border is beneficial," he said. Possible capture of key rebel Allied forces in Afghanistan may have captured one of the most important and brutal Taliban commanders, Mullah Dadullah, during operations in southern Kandahar Province, an Afghan general said Friday, The New York Times reported from Islamabad. The governor of Kandahar confirmed that a very senior Taliban commander was among three members of the leadership council of the insurgent movement who had been captured. But he said he could not identify him for reasons of security. Security forces were continuing their hunt for insurgents after two days of fierce fighting in Kandahar and the adjoining province of Helmand. If true, the capture of Dadullah and the two others would be a significant success for the U.S.-led coalition and the Afghan government as they battle a spreading insurgency across the provinces of southern Afghanistan and a suicide bombing campaign that continues to take a toll in foreign and Afghan casualties.

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