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America Strikes Back: Afghan Heroin Might Finance Taliban, Northern Alliance

Aired October 25, 2001 - 10:48   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. authorities say not only is Afghanistan a haven for terrorists, they say it is also the source of most of the world's heroin. As much as $50 million comes to Afghanistan every year from drug smuggling and sales and helps to fuel both sides in the conflict, the Taliban and the Northern Alliance.

For more on this, CNN's Miles O'Brien at the big board now.

Miles, good morning to you.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Bill. It is by far the largest export of Afghanistan, that is to say, opium. Among the runners-up are fruit, nuts, and woven rugs. But far and away, opium is the number one export of this country. There are opium fields all throughout this country.

Let's look at what one of those looks like, as we look at some video we have of an opium field. This is a cash crop, which is a rather enticing cash crop in a country where the per capita annual income is all of $730. Seventy-two percent of world's illicit opium came from Afghanistan in 2000.

Let's take a look at some animation we put together, to give you a sense of where the opium is and who is controlling it and who might be profiting from it. Let's zoom in on Afghanistan and walk you through this region. As it turns out, it's not just the Taliban; the Northern Alliance are also growers of the poppy and opium crop, which might, in fact, be significant in funding their efforts as well.

This is kind of the initial area of poppy growing, by late 1993, 200,000 acres. We're not too far from Kabul. This is the border with Pakistan along the Khyber Pass that we've been telling you about. That is one of the significant areas, in Nangarhar Province.

As you move along, we go to an area where additional poppy growth came in. This is the breadbasket of Afghanistan, if you will. There are probably more than 6 million acres of poppies here. This is a very fertile area.

It's irrigated -- coincidentally, ironically, whatever you like -- from a system that was put in by the United States. In the 1950s, the idea was to feed the Afghanis. Instead, it has become a very, very fertile place to grow illicit opium: 39 percent of all world's illicit opium comes from the one spot.

The interesting and sad thing about it is the opium is not planted in leftover fields. The opium goes in the primo farmland, the most fertile fields, the best irrigation, tend to serve the opium crops - and this is in a country that has been bedeviled by droughts and famines in recent years and wars that have plagued it as well.

Moving to the north, Northern alliance territory. We can't leave them out, in the interest of fairness. There is a cultivation area near Feyzabad -- not as huge numbers as we're seeing down in the south, about 64,000 hectares in the year 2000. Nevertheless, all of this is exported out, smuggled out across this border, not into Turkmenistan there, but typically, what happens is this becomes a key exit point through Iran and the Opium ultimately finds its way into Europe and finds its way into heroin.

The money, some $40 million, we can only presume what it is funding, but it's a fairly safe assumption that it might be help the Taliban and for that matter the Northern Alliance keep themselves armed.

The interesting thing about this, Bill, is that the Taliban had made a very public display of the fact that the opium is no longer grown under their watch. They've had public burning of opium fields. But none of the facts that we have come across through the State Department and other sources indicates that that is anything more than just a show. So if you want to know how terrorism might be financed, look at the poppies, look at the opium -- Bill.

HEMMER: Interesting connection. Miles, thank you -- Miles O'Brien watching that.

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