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Kabul Pleads For More NATO Help To Fight Drugs

An Afghan policeman stands guard as authorities burn huge quantity of narcoticsin Herat in 2008.
KABUL (Reuters) -- Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is likely to decrease by next year, an Afghan official has said, but the country needs more money and help from NATO to reach its goal of becoming "poppy-free."

Opium-poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, the world's biggest supplier of the source material for heroin, has decreased by 22 percent so far in 2009, compared with last year, according to the United Nations, with 20 provinces now described as "poppy-free".

"In the coming year, in 2010, we can have four or five new provinces being poppy-free," Zalmay Afzali, a spokesman for the Ministry of Counternarcotics told a news conference.

The UN says a province is "poppy-free" when it cultivates less than 100 hectares of the drug crop a year.

Afzali said the government's counter-narcotics operations had been successful, but there was still a lack of broad financial support from the international community and in particular NATO countries involved in stabilizing Afghanistan.

"We want the international community and NATO to help more, only the UK and US has helped us a lot. But a bullet that comes out of an insurgent's Kalashnikov has been paid for by opium."

Shortly before the news conference, Afzali said, Britain and the United States confirmed they would give a further $39 million to the Afghan government's counternarcotics program.

In 2009, 123,000 hectares of opium poppy have been cultivated in Afghanistan so far, according to the UN, and Afzali said some $5 million in revenue from the drug is used to fund the Taliban-led insurgency each year.

Most of the opium produced in Afghanistan comes from the southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, and Farah, where thousands of mainly U.S. and British troops are battling an escalating Taliban insurgency.