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NATO forces capture huge cache of drugs, weapons

International forces in Afghanistan said Friday they seized a huge cache of opium, heroin and weapons in southern Kandahar province, a centre of illegal drugs production fuelling a Taliban insurgency.

world Updated: Jan 08, 2010 18:37 IST

International forces in Afghanistan said Friday they seized a huge cache of opium, heroin and weapons in southern Kandahar province, a centre of illegal drugs production fuelling a Taliban insurgency.

A combined air and ground operation early Friday had stopped a "suspicious vehicle" later found to be carrying the drugs and weapons, NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.

"A subsequent search of the truck revealed more than 5,300 pounds (2,400 kilograms) of processed opium, more than 1,000 pounds of wet opium paste, approximately 50 pounds of heroin and multiple firearms with ammunition," it said.

Most of the drugs were destroyed on the spot and two men were detained, it added.

Kandahar and neighbouring Helmand produce most of the world's opium, the raw material of heroin, in an illicit industry worth billions of dollars.

Drugs, as well as protection money extorted from aid projects, is funding an insurgency that has become increasingly virulent in recent years, experts say.

The UN's Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said last month that lower cultivation, output and falling prices of opium have seen its export value in Afghanistan drop 18 percent since 2008.

In 2009, the potential gross export value of opium from Afghanistan was 2.8 billion dollars, or about a quarter of the country's gross domestic product, UNODC found in its 2009 Afghanistan Opium Survey.

In 2008, the export value was 3.4 billion dollars, or a third of GDP.

The report said "market forces are moving against the Afghan drugs trade as lower revenues and excess production have put a damper on supply".

But experts in Kabul say stockpiles are growing as smugglers cut supply to create a shortage and push up prices.

They also say militants are increasingly on the payroll of smugglers, protecting supply routes into neighbouring countries as trucks cross porous borders with drugs and return with weapons.

President Hamid Karzai has vowed to clamp down on the drugs trade and opium cultivation.

Afghan officials, particularly police, are said to be involved in the lucrative trade.

Western media have alleged the president's younger brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai who heads Kandahar's provincial council, is involved in the drugs business. Karzai has repeatedly denied the allegations.