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Afghan opium production on rapid rise

UNITED NATIONS – Opium production in Afghanistan has increased by 34 percent over the past year, and the country is now the source of 93 percent of the heroin, morphine and other opiates on the world market, according to a report by the United Nations’ anti-drug agency.

“Afghanistan’s opium production has thus reached a frighteningly new level, twice the amount produced just two years ago,” said the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime’s annual opium survey, released Monday in Kabul.

“Leaving aside 19th-century China,” the report noted, “no country in the world has ever produced narcotics on such a deadly scale.”

The surge in opium production has frustrated U.S. and NATO military commanders, who believe that the trade plays a major factor in funding a Taliban insurgency that has become increasingly deadly over the past two years. Commanders also believe that the involvement of public officials in the drug trade has undermined Afghans’ confidence in their government.

Neighborhoods of mansions have gone up in Afghan cities in recent years, with many of the houses financed by drugs. The newfound wealth in a country that remains desperately poor has spurred resentment among many Afghans who blame their government and the international community for not doing more to give people an economic alternative to poppies.

The vast majority of Afghanistan’s opium poppies are grown along the border with Pakistan, in five southwestern provinces with a Taliban presence, according to the report.