Opium production in Afghanistan falls by 21%

Cultivation of opium poppies in Afghanistan, which are used to produce the narcotic heroin, decreased by 21 percent this year, the first reduction since the U.S. toppled the radical Islamist Taliban regime in 2001, the United Nations said.

The decrease to 257,000 acres from 323,700 acres last year will lead to a worldwide reduction in poppy cultivation of 16 percent, according to the report today by the Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Afghanistan remains the world leader in opium poppy cultivation, with 63 percent of the 2005 crop.

The Taliban, which reduced poppy cultivation by 90 percent in 2001, was ousted from power after Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network used the country as a base for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. A total of 129 U.S. military personnel have been killed in Afghanistan since then, according to the Pentagon. The U.S. has about 18,000 troops in Afghanistan, reports Bloomberg.

According to Washington Post, Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime predicted it would take 20 years to eradicate cultivation of opium poppies, a mainstay of Afghan farmers despite government warnings and the destruction of some crops.

"We see a significant improvement in the amount of land cultivated in Afghanistan," Costa said, but "heavy rainfall, snowfall and no infestation of crops resulted in a very significant increase in productivity."

A report by the U.N. agency said the total amount of land being used to grow poppies dropped from 323,570 acres in 2004 to 256,880 acres this year. But the jump in crop yield was 22 percent.

The United States, Britain and other countries have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into an anti-drug campaign in Afghanistan after opium and heroin production ballooned in recent years.

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