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US Bars Afghan Airline on Suspicion of Drug Trafficking

RIA Novosti

19:24 25/01/2013

MOSCOW, January 25 (RIA Novosti) – The US military has barred Afghanistan's biggest private airline from its list of potential contractors after accusing it of smuggling large amounts of opium into Tajikistan, a major transit route for drugs from the region, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

The allegations state that Kam Air ferried "bulk" quantities of opium – the key ingredient in heroin – on civilian flights, the paper said, citing US military officials.

"The US will not do business with those who fund and support illicit activities," US Army Maj. Gen. Richard Longo, commander of the Task Force 2010 anticorruption unit, told the Journal. "Kam Air is too large of a company not to know what has been going on within its organization."

Kam Air denied the allegations, with the company's president and founder, Zamari Kamgar, telling the newspaper it would be impossible to ferry drugs out of Afghanistan given security restrictions at airports. The airline's only passenger flight to Central Asia services the Tajik capital of Dushanbe.

The ban against the airline highlights growing concerns on the part of the US and its allies over the bustling heroin trade in Afghanistan as they prepare to draw down their anti-insurgent operations there.

It also casts fresh light on the role played by ex-Soviet Central Asian countries -- particularly Tajikistan, which shares a porous border with Afghanistan of some 800 miles -- in the massive global drug trade.

The United Nations estimates that Afghanistan supplies some 90% of illegal opiates in the world and that, in 2009, it supplied 84% of the heroin consumed worldwide.

In 2010, almost a quarter of the heroin produced in Afghanistan – some 90 tons out of 380 – passed through Central Asia, about 85 percent of it through Tajikistan, according to a 2012 report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

More than 75 percent of this was "destined for the Russia market," the report said, while a small portion continues on to Europe. Russian drug officials have estimated that their country consumes about 21 percent of the world's heroin.

According to Kam Air's website, the airline is planning a direct route from Kabul to Moscow.

The classified US military investigation into Kam Air, which has a fleet of about 16 planes, was launched late last year after the airline bid for an international contract, the Journal said citing Longo, the anticorruption task force commander.

KAM Air operates Boeing 747 and 767 airliners and provides both passenger and cargo services.

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