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U.S. Envoy Vows Thorough Investigation of Alleged Taliban Burning

21 October 2005

Ambassador Neumann says narco-trafficking threatens Afghan stability

By David Shelby
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann expressed deep concern at reports that U.S. soldiers might have been involved in burning the bodies of two dead Taliban fighters and said the matter will be investigated thoroughly and dealt with through the judicial process.

“If it is true, it is both disgusting and contrary to our values and our laws,” Neumann told reporters in New York and Washington during an October 21 videoconference.  “I can assure you that if this report proves to be true, we intend to pursue it fully and seriously within our judicial process, which is after all, part of the message that we are carrying in Afghanistan, the need to build a process of laws that follow rules.  And we will demonstrate that ourselves with our own follow-up,” he said.

Neumann said that acts of abuse take place in every war and every country but that a country can distinguish itself by the way it responds to such violations of acceptable conduct.

“[I]n our case, we will investigate.  We will investigate promptly.  We will take action.  There will be no concealing of the issue, and there will be no concealing of the outcome.  And I think that fundamentally that validates the image of America as a nation of laws,” he said.

The ambassador pointed to other U.S. military activities in the region as a more positive and appropriate reflection of the United States’ values.

“You know there’s a very large relief effort in Pakistan right now.  While you may have some people doing incredibly criminal and stupid things, you also have a great many of American military who are flying the relief helicopters in Pakistan,” he said.  “I think that is far more symbolic in photographic terms of what we are about as a nation.”  (See U.S. Response to Earthquake in South Asia.)

Neumann also spoke about the threat that the narcotics trade poses to Afghanistan’s future stability.

“You cannot build a stable government on a massive narco-economy.  It simply will rot the foundations faster than you can erect the structure on top of them.  You’re just not going to be able to have honest justice and honest government if you are corrupting it by massive flows of illegal money,” he said.

The ambassador said that the United States has given its support to Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s efforts to forge an Afghan solution to the problem.  He said the Afghan government has enjoyed some success with its counternarcotics program, which relies heavily on local governors to persuade and pressure the farmers to refrain from planting opium poppy.

He added, however, that persuasion and coercion are not enough to combat the problem.

“You need the ability to start an agricultural economy that isn’t just subsistence farming,” he said.  “This has to mean the revitalization of the agricultural economy as a whole.  It’s not just a matter of swapping off pomegranates or grapes for poppies.  And that means you have to build roads.  You can’t do alternate crops if you can’t get them to market …. Another piece of this is probably power generation.”

He said that the reconstruction of the physical and economic infrastructure would be a long and difficult process but that progress is being made.

For additional information, see Rebuilding Afghanistan.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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