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American Forces Press Service

Afghanistan Counternarcotics Efforts Continue, Official Says

By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6, 2014 – The United States has made an extraordinary investment in both blood and treasure to eradicate terrorist safe havens and narcotics production in Afghanistan, the Defense Department's principal director for counternarcotics and global threats told a House Foreign Affairs Committee panel yesterday.

More than 2,000 Americans have died in Operation Enduring Freedom, and another nearly 20,000 have been wounded, Erin M. Logan said in prepared remarks for the subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa.

In addition, the Defense Department has invested $2 billion for dedicated counternarcotics training and programs, out of the nearly $570 billion spent on the war since 2001.

"We believe that $2 billion has been well spent in developing specialized [counternarcotics] units and capabilities that have begun to achieve concrete results," Logan said.

Despite this progress, the gains are not yet irreversible, she said. Likening the programs to a seedling, Logan said Afghanistan's counternarcotics organizations will require care and nurturing before they are ready to stand on their own.

"Stepping back from our efforts now would jeopardize the further development of these units that have become reliable partners for U.S. and international law enforcement efforts," she said. It's impossible to envision a successful future for Afghanistan without sustaining an Afghan capability to fight violence and corruption created by the drug trade, she added.

The production and distribution of narcotics contributes to the country's insecurity, she said, leading to corruption, poor governance and stagnation of economic development. "Addressing the drug trade and its effects is essential to the successful transition of security responsibility to the government of Afghanistan," Logan said.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Afghanistan's opium poppy cultivation was up 36 percent in 2013, she said. "The link between insecurity and opium cultivation is well established in Afghanistan," she added. "Most of the opium poppy cultivation is concentrated in southern and western provinces, where the narcotics trade continues to fuel criminal and insurgent networks.

"The trade in Afghan-produced opiates has become an increasingly global phenomenon," she continued, "with drugs and illicit proceeds flowing to the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, East Africa, Europe, Russia and North America, with a small percentage of the heroin consumed in the United States coming from Afghanistan."

The Defense Department's counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan have two goals, Logan said: "to counter and disrupt drug-related funding to the insurgency, and … to strengthen the Afghan government's capacity to combat the drug trade during and after the security transition."

The form those efforts take include building the capacity of the Counternarcotics Police of Afghanistan, improving border security, promoting information sharing and fostering regional and international cooperation, she said, including with other U.S. government agencies.

The Defense Department's post-2014 counternarcotics strategy prioritizes programs that disrupt, degrade, and dismantle illicit narcotics networks, Logan said. It has three aims: to contain and reduce the flow of drugs from Afghanistan, to disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal organizations, and to reduce the flow of illicit proceeds that finance insurgent and terrorist activities globally, she said.

"The government of Afghanistan must be able to control narco-trafficking to advance the security of its population and allow room for lawful economic growth," Logan added.

To meet the goals outlined in the strategy, Logan said, the department must focus on three areas: continued support for vetted units, continued aviation capacity building, and continued leveraging of international and interagency capabilities.

Afghanistan's specialized counternarcotics units have shown that they are willing and able to do the job, she said.

"More and more specialized units are now able to plan, execute, and follow through on [counternarcotics] missions on their own," Logan said. "For example, in December, the DOD-supported and [Drug Enforcement Agency]-mentored Sensitive Investigative Unit was able to use judicially authorized wire intercepts to build a case that led to the arrest of two criminals and the seizure of 660 grams of heroin, 500 boxes of ammunition, 40 remote control IEDs, and 75 rocket-propelled grenades."

Afghanistan's terrain makes developing its aviation capability vital -- not just for counternarcotics operations, but for any security effort, she said.

"Afghan forces must have adequate air mobility to operate in the remote areas where insurgents and illicit drug networks operate," Logan said.

This won't be a rapid process, she noted. "Our experiences in Colombia and elsewhere illustrate that it can take a decade or more for an aviation capability to become truly self-sustaining. In a nation like Afghanistan where budgetary pressures will be high, it may take longer."

Interagency and international partnerships will become increasingly important as U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan draw down over the coming year, Logan said. "The worldwide breadth of the Afghan heroin trade will require working across numerous 'seams' between the geographic combatant commands, and building upon existing international partnerships to disrupt the flow of drugs and other illicit commodities," she said.

To facilitate this cross-agency and cross-border collaboration, Logan said, her office is working with combatant commands, U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies and interested international partners to create a regional targeting and intelligence center. The center would be able to "coordinate and facilitate international efforts to disrupt the flow of heroin, target illicit sources of revenue, and dismantle criminal organizations that pose the greatest threat to U.S. and international security," she noted.

To begin, Logan said, the agency will expand Operation Riptide, which is located in Bahrain and leverages the capabilities of U.S. and international law enforcement and national intelligence agencies to facilitate interdictions, seizures, investigations and prosecutions.

"Naval interdictions from Combined Maritime Forces in Bahrain, notably by Canada's HMCS Toronto and by Australia's HMAS Melbourne, have proven the international community's ability to identify, track, board, and seize illicit cargo on the high seas," she said.

In 2013, HMCS Toronto conducted seven seizures, Logan said. The value of the cargo it seized during that time is estimated to be equal to the amount of funding necessary to outfit 100 platoons of insurgents, she noted.

"DOD plans to continue its successful and effective partnership with the interagency and international partners to disrupt the sources of revenue for terrorists and insurgents, and reduce the corrosive, corruptive, and destabilizing impact of illicit narcotics," Logan said.

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