Despite Little Success in Colombia, Some U.S. Officials Continue to Push Crop Spraying in Afghanistan

Despite Little Success in Colombia, Some U.S. Officials Continue to Push Crop Spraying in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON - Despite little evidence that a massive program of aerial coca crop fumigation has worked in Colombia, and despite serious reservations by the Pentagon and by Afghan president Hamid Karzai, the U.S. State Department, backed by the White House, is quietly pushing the expansion of aerial poppy eradication into Afghanistan as a way to fight the Taliban.

Soon Afghanistan, which produces 92 percent of the world's opium and 80 percent of the world's heroin, may be the target of a program of Plan Colombia-style aerial crop eradication. With the Afghan war entering a tenuous new phase, the stakes are high: Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he will send an additional 3,200 U.S. troops to Afghanistan in March as a defense against a possible spring offensive by Taliban insurgents. The additional troops will come on top of the 27,000 U.S. troops already there as part of both the 50,000-strong NATO force as well as a separate U.S. contingent.

The aggressive campaign of aerial eradication of coca crops that is part of Plan Colombia, the most comprehensive and ambitious U.S. foreign assistance plan ever aimed at stopping cocaine at its source, has had decidedly mixed results. Since its inception in 2000, the annual military and aid package, which so far totals close to $5 billion, has not succeeded in combating the country's cocaine problem.

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