U.S. and Afghan forces working with Russian agents destroyed millions of dollars’ worth of drugs at several heroin and opium production facilities in Afghanistan during an unprecedented joint operation, officials said Friday.
The raid in Nangarhar province stopped a huge drug production base in the mountains near the Pakistani border, Viktor Ivanov, head of Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service, said at a news conference in Moscow. Officials said about 70 men, including U.S. and Afghan troops and four Russian drug control agents, took over the facilities Thursday.
The operation, which was supported by nine U.S. helicopters, destroyed more than 2,000 pounds of heroin and 340 pounds of opium. No casualties were reported among the government forces, said Ivanov, who did not have information on whether anyone else was injured at the facilities.
Authorities said information about the locations of several drug labs was provided to the U.S. by the Russian agency. Ivanov met with U.S. officials in Washington last week.
The raid represents “a very concrete example of real cooperation,” said Eric Rubin, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, who participated in the news conference. “We can’t succeed alone.”
Several experts in Moscow hailed the raid, saying Afghanistan was a logical place to expand Russian-U.S. cooperation, especially in stemming drug activities and terrorism.
The issue of drug production in Afghanistan is sensitive and requires teamwork to keep from alienating large numbers of Afghan farmers whose only income comes from growing opium poppies, Gennady Gudkov, deputy head of the Russian parliament security committee, said in an interview.
“We must fight this common evil together but very cautiously, by delivering pinpoint strikes against the drug industry installations and concrete drug lords and their hideouts,” Gudkov said. “We should further welcome the Americans to act on our intelligence information, which we can share. We still have a very good information network in Afghanistan.”
According to the Russian drug control agency, Russia has about 5 million drug addicts and their number is growing. About 90% of the heroin in the country arrives from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, former Soviet republics bordering Afghanistan.
Ivanov told reporters that Russia plans to have more than four drug agents in Afghanistan, though he did not provide details.
Some experts, however, remained skeptical about any expansion of Russia’s role in Afghanistan.
“I can understand the desire of the United States to share the responsibility with Russia for the destruction of the drug production in Afghanistan,” Alexander Umnov, senior researcher at the Moscow-based Institute of World Economy and International Relations, said in an interview. But “Russia shouldn’t come back to Afghanistan only as a combat force again after its key part in the [1980s] war, which devastated most of the country’s economy and thus left drug production as the only way to make a living for a majority of its population.”