Opium on the rise as NATO troops clash with insurgents in Afghanistan

The largest in the past few years military offensive against the Taliban militants began recently in southern Afghanistan. NATO leadership report hundreds of extremists destroyed and admit the deaths of their own troops caused by the “friendly fire.” Civilians are forced to flee the Kandahar province. Meanwhile a record high harvest of opium is expected across the Afghan territories.

One NATO soldier died and several others were wounded in accidental “friendly fire” in Afghanistan, the chief military official announced Monday.

“Two ISAF planes were providing air support for the ground troops by firing from their board side arms during the zero-altitude flight, and unfortunately the home troops were hit,” the NATO report sates. AP further cites this report.

The incident took place in the Kandahar province in the southern region of the country where the largest military campaign since the time of the toppled Taliban regime has been unraveling. The ISAF representatives claim that in the past couple of days nearly 200 Taliban insurgents have been destroyed in fighting.

During the mentioned ongoing operation “Medusa” coalition forces of the West have been trying to squeeze the extremists out of the Panjvai region which is traditionally considered to be the fortress of the Taliban resistance. Bloody battles have been happening there since May, 2006.

This past weekend the NATO forces began their offensive using the heavy artillery with the massive support from the air force. Their campaign involves more than 2,000 International and Afghani troops.

The operation was planned beforehand. As the ISAF leadership representative explained, there was a warning for the local civilians to abandon the dangerous area few days prior to the attack. Thousands of people have already fled their homes. A number of leaflets urging the insurgents to surrender were dispersed from the planes.

Western authorities insist that there is no indication of any civilian casualties, but the Afghan Defense Ministry reported some deaths earlier without providing any certain numbers.

The Taliban leaders, in turn, pronounce their alleged success. Particularly they claim that they were able to hit a British patrolling helicopter on Saturday. NATO staff recognizes the 14 deaths of the United Kingdom’s citizens but denies that the helicopter was hit from the ground. London officials maintain that the deaths are a result of a tragic accident. In any case the crash was the bloodiest loss for the British since the beginning of the war.

Meanwhile across the Afghan territories a record-high harvest of opium poppy-seeds is approaching. According to the forecast it will turn out to be 6,100 tons, which is 1.5 times more than last year.

“Opium production is out of control,” admitted Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. According to his opinion the unrest and the instability in the southern regions are the main reason for the drug’s increase. Afghanistan is responsible for the 90% of the global opium production.

Vladimir Ivanov

Translated by Natalia Vysotskaya

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Author`s name Oksana Anikina