Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Afghanistan, portrayed as a victory in the U.S. war against terror, is a disaster in the war against drugs. Its production of heroin has soared over the last year, with the country becoming the world's top supplier. Faced with this looming catastrophe, the Bush administration is deeply divided.

 Almost everybody familiar with the drug war believes aerial spraying to kill the poppy plant must be instituted sooner or later in Afghanistan, but it surely will be later. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ruled out eradication by air. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld agrees with Karzai and opposes expanding the U.S. military's role in Afghanistan.

 That description hardly does justice to the intense feeling at high levels of the administration. Debate rages not only over aerial eradication but also over use of helicopters and who should train Afghan police. Meanwhile, billions of dollars pour out of heroin production, threatening to turn the jewel of the war against terrorism into a narco state.

 The numbers, measured by the CIA, are daunting. In 2003, 151,000 acres yielded $2.8 billion of heroin. In 2004, the acres totaled 509,000 -- an increase of 239 percent, bringing in $7 billion. That means Afghanistan outstripped Colombia, Burma, Laos and Thailand to be tops in heroin.

 Rep. Henry Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, issued this statement Jan. 25: "Until the time the newly democratic Afghan government signals its support for aerial spraying of illicit crops, we need a very robust and effective interdiction strategy to go after the heroin labs and the Afghan narco-terrorist kingpins." Four days earlier, Hyde wrote Condoleezza Rice before her confirmation as secretary of state to warn that "time is not on our side on the Afghan drug and related terrorism issue."

 Behind Hyde's warning are nightmarish consequences if narcotics in Afghanistan continue to proliferate. According to U.S. intelligence, lavish drug proceeds from Afghanistan are distributed among the HIG (Hizbi Islami Gulbuddin) terrorist group, the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) seeking a pan-Arab caliphate, remnants of the Taliban and the al Qaeda organization.

 A danger is that well-heeled Afghan drug lords in Dubai and Karachi, like their predecessors in Colombia, soon will intensify assassination attempts against Karzai and his colleagues. Even before that happens, enrichment of the world's worst terrorists carries serious consequences. What helped turn around the situation in Colombia was a body blow to the coca crop by heavy use of aerial spraying.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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