Mark Norton: Well the first thing I'd say is that eradication is Afghan-led, so what we're doing is supporting the Afghan government in their own eradication effort. Down here they've split it in two, there's a deployment of the Afghan Eradication Force. They're already in [Helmand] province, and due to start eradicating very soon. It will be manual and mechanical eradication -- that means basically men with sticks knocking down poppies, and mechanical is tractor and all-terrain vehicle dragging harrow across the poppy and destroying it that way...
"It will be manual and mechanical eradication -- that means basically men with sticks knocking down poppies, and mechanical is tractor and all-terrain vehicle dragging harrow across the poppy and destroying it that way."
The other [concurrent] type of eradication is governor-led -- that's entirely up to the governor, in this case Governor Wafa, [and] what he wants to do. But in anticipation of a request to assist him -- he's already told us that he intends to conduct a vigorous and aggressive eradication campaign throughout the province -- we've purchased 80 tractors and harrows, which we'll be giving to the governor's office to add to the, I think, 37 he already has. That will put 117 tractors at his disposal to go out and eradicate."
RFE/RL: Do you have any specific target areas or is the campaign going to cover the entire province?
Norton: I'll come back to what I said originally -- that this is Afghan-led and, indeed, the Afghan government does have target areas.... I could talk generally about the targeting -- the targeting is based on areas which are developed; have had some development, could see more development; when it's secure; areas where crops grow easily, crops other than poppy; and areas which are safe for the Afghan Eradication Force and other eradicators to operate in.
RFE/RL: The eradicators wouldn't then be working within the field of the Taliban, in the north of Helmand, for example?
Norton: It's entirely up to the governor, where he decides it's safe to go. I can't really speculate on which areas he might consider meet those criteria.
RFE/RL: Britain leads within [the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF] in the field of counternarcotics. For a number of years now, however, according to UN figures, poppy production has been going up steadily. What needs to be done to curb it?
Norton: This province in particular is pretty lawless, and that is the difficulty -- that there is little control by the government [of] what people do and do not do. My feeling is that a lot of the poppy is grown here by people who are greedy, not needy, not by people who have to grow poppy. They're growing it for a profit. They're not being forced to grow it, they choose to grow it, and they do it because they can get away with it.
"My feeling is that a lot of the poppy is grown here by people who are greedy, not needy, not by people who have to grow poppy."
RFE/RL: Do you think the Afghan government is capable of solving this problem without aggressive ISAF backing?
Norton: The Afghan government have asked for assistance in dealing with the problem, and that indeed is what my government and other governments are doing. ISAF is just a part of that -- a lot of it is logistical and material support so that they can get on and do their own job.
RFE/RL: Do you think that there's comprehensive strategy in place to tackle this problem? If this process is Afghan-led and is not going to go into places where there could be fighting, then in terms such as cutting off Taliban finances, this is not going to make much difference to the situation, is it?
Norton: There's a symbiotic relationship between the drug barns and the Taliban. The Taliban don't necessarily grow opium, but what they do is they provide a protection service for those that do. So, inevitably, there are funds coming from the narcotics industry into the insurgency, and that is obviously very bad for all of us.
OPIUM FARMING ON THE RISE Despite a nationwide program by the Afghan government to eradicate opium-poppy fields and offer farmers alternative crops, international experts say that the 2006 opium crop will be as much as 40 percent larger than the previous year's. Afghanistan is the largest producer of opium in the world, and the source of as much as 90 percent of Europe's heroin.(more)