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U.S. considering targeting Taliban drug trade

By Jamie McIntyre
CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pentagon officials have targeted illicit-drug production facilities in Afghanistan to cut off the Taliban militia's funding, sources told CNN Monday.

Striking at drug facilities is one option military planners are considering as they devise ways military force could be used to pressure the Taliban, a senior Pentagon official said.

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"This is like a football coach having a lot of plays in his play book," the official said. Drug facilities in Afghanistan are on the "list of potential targets," the source said.

Officials are investigating a "full spectrum" of options in dealing with the Taliban, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld confirmed Monday.

"We're intent on altering behavior," Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon briefing. "We're intent on attempting to take the steps so that the American people and our interests and friends and allies and deployed forces can go about our business not in fear."

Illicit drug trade is the primary source of revenue for the Taliban, bringing it an estimated $50 million a year, U.S. officials say. The Bush administration is trying to squeeze the finances of terrorist groups in general -- Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda in particular -- by freezing their assets and cutting off their sources of revenue.

CIA analysts say Afghanistan in 1999 led the world in the illicit production of opium, the substance from which heroin is derived.

This year, say U.S. officials, the Taliban banned the cultivation of poppies, the source of opium. The ban apparently has been effective: Almost no poppies are growing in Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan, sources say.

Still, say analysts, evidence suggests the Taliban have huge stockpiles of poppies, sufficient to keep cash flowing.

The ban apparently has not harmed Afghanistan's drug production, according to the CIA, whose fact book lists Afghanistan as major source of hashish. Increasing numbers of heroin-processing laboratories are setting up in the country, and major Afghan political factions profit from their illicit activities, the fact book says.






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