The U.S. military will significantly increase its role in halting the production and sale of poppies, opium, and heroin in Afghanistan, responding to bumper harvests that far exceed even the most alarming predictions, the New York Times reports. The military will move agents by helicopters and cargo planes and assist in planning missions and uncovering targets in a stepped-up war on the trade and the heavily armed forces that protect it.
Under previous rules, the American military in Afghanistan was held back from such missions. The 17,000 U.S. troops were authorized to seize or destroy drugs and drug equipment only if they came across them in the course of traditional military activities. To support the effort, the Defense Department is requesting $257 million, more than four times the amount last year. When the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.N. released reports on Afghan poppy cultivation for 2004 – the United Nations said Afghanistan was now responsible for 87 percent of the world’s illicit opium production – “they were beyond most people’s worst nightmares,” one official said.