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Fighting Afghan drugs risks more violence: UK report

Written by: Staff

London, Apr 6: Attacking Afghanistan's drugs trade could make the country more dangerous for British troops and other NATO peacekeepers, and provoke more violence in the short term, a parliamentary report said today.

Britain will send more than 3,000 troops to southern Afghanistan's restive Helmand province in the next few months in the vanguard of an expanding ISAF peacekeeping force, part of an ambitious new NATO mission announced earlier this year.

The British government says its troops are being sent to help stabilise Afghanistan and also to help it fight a narcotics trade that produces the opium used to make 90 per cent of the world's heroin. A quarter of Afghan opium is grown in Helmand.

But parliament's defence committee said the government had not fully explained what British forces' role in fighting drugs would be, and it worried that counter-narcotics operations could cause more violence.

''There is a fundamental tension between the UK's objective of promoting stability and security and its aim of implementing an effective counter-narcotics strategy,'' the cross-party committee said in its report.

''It is likely the more successful the deployment is at impeding the drugs trade, the more it will come under attack from those involved in it.'' As of now, foreign troops in Afghanistan are divided into two forces -- NATO peacekeepers involved in reconstruction in the north and the tougher US-led ''Operation Enduring Freedom'' counter-insurgency mission hunting guerrillas in the south.

But over the next year the two forces are due to merge under the command of a British general at a NATO headquarters.

British, Canadian and Dutch troops will go to the southwest, and Americans already in the southeast will put on NATO badges.

The report expressed concern that some NATO allies would place ''caveats'' restricting how their forces can be used, making it necessary for Britain and other countries with fewer restrictions to take on dangerous missions in the south.

''We remain concerned that national caveats risk impairing the effectiveness of the ISAF mission in the southern provinces where conditions are likely to be most challenging,'' it said.

It expressed concern about overstretching the British military, especially high demand troops like helicopter crews, intelligence personnel, translators and medics. Drawing down Britain's commitment in Iraq, where it has 8,000 troops, would make it easier to meet the requirements in Afghanistan, it said.


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