Nato dumps Afghan opium adverts

Poppy production is an important income source for many farmers

Nato forces in Afghanistan say that they have withdrawn paid adverts on a radio station which implied it was acceptable to grow opium poppies.

A Nato spokesman told the BBC that the advert was "ambiguously worded".


The decision followed complaints from the Afghan government and the UN that the alliance was appearing to condone the illicit crop.

The advert was paid for by the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) and aired in Helmand province.

The province in the south is one of the largest opium-producing area in the world and the centre of a large Nato-led anti-Taleban offensive.

‘Poorly worded’

"This was an error by Isaf," Zalmay Afzali, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Ministry for Counter Narcotics told the AP news agency.

"We request from Isaf to avoid these kind of errors in the future because it can create a hell of a problem for the counter-narcotics strategy of Afghanistan," he said.

Nato says it has no responsibility for poppy eradication

Isaf spokeswoman Angela Billings told AP that the "poorly worded address" was taken off air on Tuesday.

The advertisement said Isaf troops understood that most Afghan people had no source of income other than poppy production.

It said that troops are not in Afghanistan to eradicate opium poppies, but to bring security and kill foreign militants.

‘Dubious message’

Nato officials say it has no role in poppy eradication – which is the responsibility of the Afghan authorities – because of fears that alliance involvement may fuel the Taleban’s insurgency.

Government figures show that nearly two million farmers grow opium poppies.

Poppy production was up 25% for 2006, the US has said

Correspondents say that they are encouraged to do by the Taleban and other powerful criminal elements who exploit their need for a profitable crop that can withstand drought.

Figures show that opium production from poppies in Afghanistan last year rose 49% to 6,700 tons – enough to make about 670 tons of heroin.

That is more than 90% of the world’s supply and more than the world’s addicts consume in a year.

Counter-narcotics officials forecast that this year’s production will be equal to, if not greater than last year’s record crop.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime representative in Kabul, Christina Oguz, told the BBC that the Nato-backed advertisement sent mixed messages to farmers.

"Isn’t it a kind of a dubious message? There is this very strong link between insurgents and drug traffickers," she said.


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