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Six-Ton Drug Blaze A Small Step In Afghan Battles

KABUL (Reuters) -- Afghan officials have burned more than 6.7 tons of drugs outside the capital, Kabul, with the country's counternarcotics minister hailing it as a victory against insurgents but just a small step in the fight against drugs.

Despite a marginal drop in production, Afghanistan last year still produced more than 90 percent of the worlds opium, a thick paste from poppies which is processed to make highly addictive heroin and then smuggled abroad.

Afghanistan is also rapidly becoming one of the world's largest producers of hashish.

"It is a very small amount. The seizure is very small," said General Khodaidad, minister for counternarcotics said, standing near a nearly two-meter-high heap of opium, hashish, heroin, and drug-processing chemicals minutes before it was set ablaze on a hillside outside Kabul.

But because Taliban insurgents make an estimated $100 million to $200 million a year from taxing and trafficking the drug, according to NATO estimates, any seizure is a victory for the government.

"This is a big hit, a big success against terrorism...poppy is the main supporter of the insurgency in Afghanistan," Khodaidad said.

Last year Afghanistan produced some 7,700 tons of opium, the second-biggest harvest on record, the United Nations said, down from 8,200 in 2007. While cultivation dropped by almost one-fifth last year, higher yields meant production only dropped by 6 percent.

Opium production is worth an estimated $3 billion a year to the Afghan economy overall.