DEA To Deploy Five Virginia-Based FAST Teams In Afghanistan

Agence France Presse (3/18) reports, “The United States will deploy crack anti-drug squads, beef up interdiction air power and tighten border surveillance to combat burgeoning opium production in Afghanistan, officials said.  The narcotics problem ‘is perhaps the greatest obstacle to our goal of seeing Afghanistan become a peaceful, prosperous country that never again harbors terrorists like those who attacked’ the United States on September 11, 2001, US State Department official Maureen Quinn told Congress.”  Quinn said, “Although we have seen some evidence of short-term success on counternarcotics in the past few months, it is important that we not let up.”  DEA operations chief Michael Braun told the hearing that “its foreign-deployed advisory and support teams, or ‘FAST’ squads, ‘may initiate their first deployment in Afghanistan as early as March 30.'”  He said that “these teams of DEA special agents and so-called intelligence research specialists ‘will provide guidance and conduct bilateral investigations to identify and dismantle illicit drug trafficking and money laundering organizations.'”   Braun said that “five Virginia-based FAST teams, which have received specialized training, will be deployed two groups at a time, and will rotate every 120 days.”  AFP notes, “The deployment was part of the DEA-led ‘Operation Containment’ in Afghanistan, which he said, had notched ‘tremendous’ success since the intense, multinational cooperative program was established in 2002.”  Braun said that “nearly half of the 40 organizations classified as terrorist groups by the State Department had possible ties to the drug trade.”

Voice of America News (3/17, Robinson) reports, “Officials testifying before Congress have defended US and Afghan government strategies to fight opium production and the narcotics trade.   Lawmakers continue to complain the US military is still not making the fight against narcotics there a priority.”  Quinn “acknowledged challenges,” but said that “there is an opportunity for progress in 2005.”  Quinn said, “The government of Afghanistan is leading the way as President Karzai has challenged his people to end the growing of opium poppy.  The government of the United Kingdom is coordinating international counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan.  The United States has committed to make a major effort to ensure that narcotics production and the drug trade do not undercut the new institution of government we are supporting and advancing in Afghanistan.”  Braun, said that “special DEA foreign-deployed agents may begin work at the end of March, supplementing an existing regional effort.”  He explained, “Operation Containment is a DEA-led multinational cooperative program initiated in 2002 in an effort to place a security belt around Afghanistan that would prevent processing chemicals from entering the country and opium and heroin from leaving.”

Rice Praises Afghan Anti-Drug Efforts.  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday visited Afghanistan, where she intended to highlight progress that country has made since its liberation three years ago.  However, during her press conference with President Hamid Karzai, many questions focused on Afghanistan’s growing opium trade.  NBC Nightly News (3/17, story 4, 2:25, Jordan) reported, “A new State Department study released this month reports Afghanistan is the world’s leading producer of opium and in danger of becoming a narcotics state.”  Questions “about the opium crisis dominated Rice’s news conference with President Hamid Karzai.”  President Karzai:  “It’s a long-term fight that requires a long-term strategy.”  Jordan:  “The US has proposed giving Afghanistan $780 million in aid to fight the opium problem.”  Secretary Rice:  “We have a long-term commitment to this country.  We learned the hard way what it meant not to have a long-term commitment.”

The Los Angeles Times (3/18, Watson) reports “Karzai said farmers were planting opium poppies out of desperation.  ‘This year we will have much less [opium] crops than last year,’ he said.  ‘Of course, it’s an economic matter.  Afghanistan and the international community have to join hands in order to provide the Afghan people with alternative livelihoods.'”

USA Today (3/18, Lynch) reports Rice, “did not mention Afghanistan’s drug problem until asked.”  She “called poppy cultivation ‘a very serious problem'” but “she noted ‘a serious commitment to fight it.'”

The AP (3/18, Gearan) reports Rice “praised Afghan efforts to clamp down on the heroin trade and Afghan President Hamid Karzai predicted drug production will drop significantly this year.  Without major progress to stem drug production, the drug economy threatens to undermine democratic advances in the formerly militant Islam nation.”

Canadian Research Suggests Safe Drug-Injection Sites Reduce Needle-Sharing, HIV Spread.  The Canadian Press (3/18, Ubelacker) reports, “Giving addicts a safe, supervised place to inject drugs may help reduce syringe-sharing, thereby preventing the spread of hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS, Canadian research suggests.  A University of British Columbia study has found that drug users who regularly use Vancouver’s safe-injection site in the city’s gritty eastside are 70 per cent less likely to share needles than those who give the facility a pass.”  Thomas Kerr, a researcher at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and lead author of the study, said, “This is extremely important because Vancouver has been the site of one of the most explosive HIV epidemics among injection-drug users that has ever been observed in the developed world.  We know syringe sharing is the primary driving factor of these two epidemics.  So it’s very good news to have identified an intervention that seems to be having some type of protective effect.”  The CP adds, “But addiction experts, noting that the number of participants in the study was small and the city’s drug-abuse problem complex, say the injection site’s impact on curtailing needle-sharing should not be overstated.”

Canadian Study Looks At British Medical Marijuana Use.  The Washington Times/UPI (3/18) reports, “A Canadian study of those who use marijuana for medical reasons in Britain found 16 percent do so on the advice of their doctors.  Results of the McGill University survey is published in the March issue of IJCP, the International Journal of Clinical Practice.  The study said of the 947 people surveyed in Britain, more than a third (35 percent) said they used marijuana six or seven days a week. The majority (68 percent) said marijuana considerably eased their symptoms.”  Lead author Dr. Mark Ware said, “The results of our UK survey, including the extent of use and reported effects, lend support to the further development of safe and effective medicines based on cannabis.”

Cambodia’s Senate Ratifies All Three UN Drug Control Conventions.  Agence France Presse (3/18) reports, “Cambodia’s senate on Wednesday ratified all three UN drug control conventions in what the UN Office on Drugs and Crime described as a fundamental step forward for drug control in the kingdom.  When the ratification is approved by the king and becomes law, Stalinist North Korea will be the only remaining country in Asia which has not yet acceded to all three conventions.  ‘The senate approved all the three conventions,’ a staffer of senate President Chea Sim told AFP.  All 46 senators present voted in favor of the bill, he added, which was cleared by the national assembly in late February.  Graham Shaw, program officer for the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime in Cambodia, said the accession was a ‘major, fundamental step forward.'”

Fugitive British Drug Ringleader Caught In Spain.  The London Independent (3/18, Bennetto) reports, “A fugitive accused of masterminding one of Britain’s biggest drug-smuggling operations and fixing hundreds of horse races has finally been arrested after six years on the run.  Brian Wright, 58, nicknamed ‘the Milkman,’ because he ‘always delivered’ was seized in Marbella, southern Spain.  He was tracked down to the Costa del Sol, where he moved two years ago from Northern Cyprus, following an intelligence operation by Customs and Excise. The alleged gang leader was arrested by Spanish police on Tuesday and is being held while an extradition request from Britain is considered.  Mr Wright is accused of being the head of a 16-strong gang running one of the largest cocaine-smuggling rings to operate in Britain. It brought an estimated £360m of cocaine into the country. The millionaire gambler is also accused of using money from his alleged cocaine deals to corrupt jockeys, securing inside information on horses and fixing races.”

The London Guardian (3/18, Kelso) reports, “Brian Wright, 58, is alleged by HM Customs and Excise officers to have engineered a £360m cocaine smuggling operation, and is also accused of being at the centre of a web of corruption said to have tainted racing’s reputation.  He was picked up by police in Spain six years after he fled the UK. Extradition proceedings are expected to begin shortly.”

Coast Guard Seizes More Than 9,500 Pounds Of Cocaine.  The AP (3/18) reports, “The Coast Guard cutter Seneca has seized more than 9,500 pounds of cocaine and arrested 17 suspected drug traffickers in several recent smuggling busts, the Coast Guard said Thursday.  The cocaine, with an estimated street value of $300 million, will be unloaded Friday at Key West.  The Boston-based Seneca seized the drugs after stopping alleged smuggling vessels off the coast of Colombia in four incidents between Feb. 3 and March 10, the Coast Guard said in a statement.”

Rice To Discuss Heroin Trade With Afghan President.  Reuters (3/17) reports, “Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Kabul on Thursday for talks with President Hamid Karzai that will focus on deepening democracy in Afghanistan and waging a war on drugs. …  Rice will also discuss the heroin trade in Afghanistan, which the State Department says is ‘on the verge of becoming a narcotics state’ and ‘an enormous threat to world stability.’  Rice said her talks would include problems Afghanistan continues to face ‘in the war on terror and, of course, on the counter-narcotics side as well.’”

Quebec City Police Officer Faces Marijuana Trafficking Charges.  The Canadian Press (3/17) reports, “A 28-year-old Quebec City police officer was charged Wednesday with growing marijuana and possession for the purpose of trafficking.  Jean-Francois Pare, who has been with the force since 2001, has been suspended with pay and is out on bail. He’ll be back in court in May.”

Afghan National Interdiction Unit Raids Several Drug Labs In Nangarhar Province.  The Washington Times/UPI (3/16) reports, “US-trained Afghan teams raided several heroin labs in eastern Afghanistan Tuesday, destroying the laboratories.  The Unied States-trained Afghanistan National Interdiction Unit says it has raided several drug labs in the Achin district of Nangarhar province.  They seized 33 pounds of heroin, 4,850 pounds of dry opium, 384 gallons of liquid opium, 881 pounds of dry chemicals and 329 gallons of liquid chemicals.  The NIU destroyed several drug labs and seized equipment used for converting opium into heroin.  The NIU received training from US interdiction and security agencies and, so far, 77 Afghan men and women have graduated in three separate NIU classes.”

Father Of Slain Texas Student Urges Spring Breakers To Avoid Mexico. The Dallas Morning News (3/16, Eaton) reports, “The father of a Texas student killed in a 1989 sadistic ritual murder during spring break in Mexico is warning students to avoid crossing the border this year.  ‘I just hope students stay out of Mexico,’ said Jim Kilroy, a resident of Santa Fe, near Houston.  ‘The drug dealers are ruining it, and the police aren’t there to protect you.’  Mark Kilroy, 21, disappeared on March 14, 1989, while barhopping with friends in Matamoros. Investigators later blamed the murder on Adolfo Jesus Constanzo, a self-styled practitioner of African voodoo whose followers had chosen Mr. Kilroy at random.  More than 100,000 teenagers and young adults travel to Mexico during spring break each year, US officials say.  ‘While the vast majority enjoy their vacations without incident, several may die, hundreds will be arrested, and still more will make mistakes that could affect them for the rest of their lives’ a State Department advisory from March 9 said.”

Marijuana Grow-Op Discovered In Greenhouse Fire In Ontario.  The Canadian Press (3/16) reports, “A large marijuana grow operation was discovered in the Niagara-area early Tuesday by firefighters responding to a greenhouse fire.  A truck driver noticed flames in a greenhouse just after 2 a.m. and alerted firefighters. The greenhouse was fully engulfed in flames by the time fire crews arrived.  As firefighters walked around the property, they eventually discovered 14 greenhouses containing thousands of marijuana plants.  Each greenhouse measured about six meters by 60 meters.  The operation was apparently powered by two large generators and fire officials believe an electrical problem sparked the fire.”

Category: Drug News