U.S. promises better teamwork on Afghan drug raids

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 24, 2011 12:23 PM

By Amie Ferris-Rotman

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The United States said on Thursday it would coordinate better with its partners on heroin raids in Afghanistan after rattling Kabul officials with an operation with Russia last year.

Over the past two years the former Cold War foes have been tackling heroin production in Afghanistan, which produces 90 percent of the global total, as Russia struggles to contain a crippling HIV/AIDS crisis.

A joint raid last October, in which they destroyed four drug labs and nearly one metric ton of heroin in mountains near the Pakistani border, drew criticism from Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who said his country's sovereignty had been violated.

"If it is our fault, we apologize for that lack of communication," Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, told reporters in Moscow, where he met Russian anti-drugs officers.

"Quite frankly, sometimes communications break down and after this we tried to repair it.... As we continue to work in a trilateral fashion, the key is that communication is improved."

Russian anti-drugs tsar Viktor Ivanov said Moscow and Washington were planning more joint operations, but declined to give a time frame.

"The scale of this work is permanently growing," he said.

The world's largest per capita heroin consumer, Russia has up to 3 million addicts, and it is now facing an HIV/AIDS epidemic that is spreading among drug users from dirty needles.

Ivanov has blamed porous borders in ex-Soviet Central Asia, particularly those of Tajikistan, to Afghanistan's north, for the flourishing Afghan heroin trade.

According to the United Nations, just over a fifth of the 375 metric tons of heroin coming from Afghanistan every year now finds its way to Russia.

International and local health groups say Russia should do a better job fighting drug addiction at home, including legalizing the heroin substitute methadone.

Ivanov stressed that Russia is taking the more Western approach of treating drug addicts -- as opposed to seeing users as a problem -- but has repeatedly said methadone should remain illegal because he says it is ineffective.