Russian and US forces raided four drug laboratories in Afghanistan in their first joint anti-drug operation. More than a dent in trafficking, the raid represents growing cooperation between Russia and the West.
Russia has criticized US anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan
Russian and American forces conducted their first joint anti-narcotics raid in Afghanistan early on Thursday, signaling closer cooperation between the two countries in the battle to control drug cultivation in the war-torn country, the world's largest producer of opium.
Russian anti-drug chief Viktor Ivanov told a news conference on Friday that the raid took place near the Pakistani border, and that Russian and US forces were supported by helicopters and Afghan police.
"Four laboratories were found and destroyed - three for heroin and one for morphine," Ivanov said. "As a result, 932 kilograms (2,055 pounds) of very highly concentrated heroin and 156 kilograms of opium were destroyed."
Afghanistan is the world's biggest source of opium
He added that the street value of the drugs could be up to $250 million (180 million euros). The US Drug Enforcement Administration released a statement noting the same amount of drugs seized, but said the heroin was worth $55.9 million.
Eric Rubin, deputy chief of mission at the American embassy in Moscow, said the operation was a "very big" seizure.
"Just in terms of disruption, this was a very important operation, but it was also part of a larger strategy to attack the drug flows," Rubin said at the news conference with Ivanov.
Shadows of Soviet war
Trafficking from Afghanistan has stoked a major heroin problem in Russia, and Ivanov has criticized the US strategy in its war on Afghan drugs, urging more aggressive eradication of poppy crops.
The amount seized in Thursday's raid is unlikely to have a significant effect on the Afghan drug trade. The country produces about 90 percent of the world's opium, which is used to make heroin.
The US funded Afghan militias to fight the Soviet Union
But the raid did represent an increase in cooperation between the US and Russia, two decades after the US funded Afghan militias to chase out Soviet occupying forces.
Thousands of Soviet soldiers were killed in the 10-year war, and going back to Afghanistan remains a sensitive issue in Russia. Several politicians, including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, have said sending Russian troops to join the NATO-led mission Afghanistan is out of the question.
But the joint US-Russian drug raid - along with Russia's willingness to let NATO forces fly in and out of Afghanistan through Russian territory and its offer to sell helicopters to the Afghan army - suggests Russia's cooperation with the West on Afghanistan is improving.
Author: Andrew Bowen (AP, Reuters)
Editor: Kyle James