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29 Oct, 2010 12:00

First Russia-US operation in Afghanistan hailed a success

Two hundred million doses of heroin have been destroyed in Afghanistan thanks to the joint efforts of Russia and the US, Russia's drug control chief said on Friday.

Four drug laboratories were raided and destroyed on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border on Thursday morning.

The head of Russia’s drug control agency, Viktor Ivanov describes the operation as an unprecedented show of joint efforts in order to combat drug traffic from Afghanistan. He said it was the result of cooperation between Russia's Federal Drug Control Service, Afghanistan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and US special forces.

"These laboratories were in the mountainous area near the Pakistani border. After we gave information to our US and Afghan partners the three sides planned the operation for three months. We used about seventy special forces units, three landing helicopters and six supporting ones. The whole operation lasted less than four hours. We discovered and destroyed four drug-producing labs and seized more than nine hundred kilos of heroin," said Ivanov.

He added that the damage to Afghanistan’s narcotics industry may total more than $1 billion dollars.

Ivanov also expressed his hope that Russia would continue to work with the US in targeting drug labs in Afghanistan. "We are interested in further cooperation in destroying drug laboratories. According to our sources, in Badakhshan alone, there are more than 400 drug laboratories and a large number are located in Helmand. The number of labs is huge, as we see."

About 90 per cent of drug addicts in Russia take narcotics produced in Afghanistan. Moscow suggests eradicating all poppy fields and labs there. Earlier this month Russia and the US agreed on an action plan to tackle the Afghan drug problem.

Russia has long considered Afghan drug traffic as one of the main threats to security and stability in the region. However anti-narcotic politics has been the main source of contention between Russia and NATO in Afghanistan. Most criticism came over NATO's refusal to agree on eradicating poppy fields, says advisor to Russia's Foreign Minister Armen Oganesyan. "The argument from NATO was that unemployment was the reason. There are no jobs, other jobs. But I think this is insufficient reason because we are talking about people’s lives," he said.

However, Oganesyan believes that the anti-drug operation sent a message to the drug lords in Afghanistan that NATO and Russia will work together and fight them.
"I think it is a very good start on a very, very long road. Because there are more than a hundred laboratories in Afghanistan producing, and only four were ruined. But it is a very good start in that some methods of working together are being worked out and I think it is very important," Oganesyan said.

President Dmitry Medvedev is expected to discuss the problem, among other issues, with NATO’s leadership in Lisbon next month.

NATO needs Russia's help as it has already failed in Afghanistan, says Col. Evgeny Khrushchev, RT military contributor.

"For them [NATO] Russia's assistance is a political, diplomatic effort to shift the responsibility for NATO’s failure to Russia, to share the burden of failure and to make it more collective. NATO has no strategic objective except self-expansion. For them it is a way to provide the front for a graceful exit. When we say NATO, it is NATO. We are talking about cooperation between Russia and the United States. Afghanistan de facto is an American protectorate. And Americans have understood that they have a lot to learn from Soviet lessons."

US-Russia cooperation is becoming more practical judging by the Afghanistan operation, stated Ivan Safranchuk, a professor of world politics at the Moscow State University of International Relations.

It is a sort of compromise when NATO became ready to take the drug problem seriously, and Russia became willing to commit some of its force as well,” he told RT.

Commenting on the US reluctance to eradicate the poppy fields, Robert Weiner, a former US drug policy spokesman, said that fear of unemployment and instability in the country cannot be considered a sufficient reason for not eradicating the fields, as some legal substitution for the farmer’s present occupation can be provided.

On the matter of survival of the farmers, we’re not out to make ‘happy farmers’ in Afghanistan who make money off killing the youth of the world, including in Russia. There’s got to be crop substitutions in addition to the eradication of the fields, as there has been in Colombia, which has cut Colombian cocaine by 50 percent very successfully. So, eradication works.”

Veteran warns against involvement with Afghan war

A joint Russian-US operation has been met with cautious voices warning Moscow against further participation in war operations in Afghanistan.

Andrey Garmash is a veteran of the war that the Soviet Union fought in Afghanistan. He was a commander of a mine disposal unit in Kandahar.

In two years his squad lost 35 people. Dozens of others lost limbs. A third of all mines used against Soviet soldiers were American made.

“The US was our enemy, and helped mujahideen with equipment, weapons, medicine,” he said. “It was them who supplied Afghanistan with the Stinger missiles which helped knock down our aircraft.”

Two decades after the Soviet army's humiliating defeat, Andrey was taken aback to find out that Russia was back in Afghanistan again. He warns against full-scale participation in the war.

“Of course, there should be special operations carried out against drug cartels, but again, special units should be in charge of this,” Garmash said. “19-year-old boys should not be recruited to do this.”

“Every single operation should be planned in detail, starting from the intelligence section, the operation itself and the wrapping up of the operation,” he added. “It is easy to get trapped in this war and hard to get out of it.”