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U.S. : Afghan poppy production doubles

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan doubled between 2002 and 2003 to a level 36 times higher than in the last year of rule by the Taliban, according to White House figures released Friday.

The area planted with poppies, used to make heroin and morphine, was 152,000 acres in 2003, compared with 76,900 acres in 2002 and 4,210 acres in 2001, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said in a statement.

The Taliban was cracking down on poppy production in the year before the U.S. military drove the movement out of office in late 2001 in response to its friendship and cooperation with the al Qaeda organization of Osama bin Laden.

The new Afghan government, led by President Hamid Karzai, has not been able to impose its will in many areas of the country, which remain under the control of warlords.

The White House statement said, "A challenging security situation ... has complicated significantly the task of implementing counternarcotics assistance programs and will continue to do so for the immediate future."

"Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is a major and growing problem. Drug cultivation and trafficking are undermining the rule of law and putting money in the pocket of terrorists," it added, quoting office director John Walters.

The U.S. figures differ significantly from those released a month ago by the United Nations, which estimated that poppy cultivation rose 8 percent in 2003, to 200,000 acres from 185,000 in 2002.

The White House said the United Nations used a different method, based a mixture of ground surveys and analysis of imagery from commercial satellites.

The U.S. estimates are based on a sample survey of Afghan agricultural regions conducted with specialized U.S. government satellite imaging systems, it added.

The United States and the United Nations also gave different estimates for Afghanistan's opium production in 2003. The United Nations said it would rise 6 percent to 3,600 metric tons, while the White House said 2003 output would be 2,865 metric tons. The United States did not give a 2002 figure.

Opium production complicates the task of restoring central government authority in Afghanistan because it enables the warlords to run small armies and gives them an extra financial incentive to retain their autonomy.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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