Remarks To The Press By U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart
April 1, 2010 | Kabul, Afghanistan
Acting Administrator Leonhart: Good morning. It's a privilege to be here. I've been here for several days visiting this wonderful country and visiting with my team of DEA agents in country. There are a number of good news stories that I'd like to share with you.
First, I'd like to start by thanking Ambassador Wayne for being here this morning with us.
DEA as an agency has one mission: that's narcotics enforcement. We span the globe. We have over 5,000 agents serving not only in the United States but we have the largest law enforcement presence in the world. That is with agents in over 80 offices in 64 countries.
Our primary mission is to target the world's largest, the biggest, baddest drug traffickers and disrupt them and dismantle their networks, and that is why in force the DEA has come to Afghanistan. We're here to help Afghanistan target the high value targets, the kingpins that are supplying the world with opium and heroin from this country.
We feel it's significant and important to remember that not too long ago, back in the 1970's and early 80's, most of the heroin on the streets of the United States actually came from this region. So one of the main reasons DEA is here in Afghanistan is to work with our Afghan partners and to make sure to prevent Afghanistan from returning as the major supplier of heroin to the United States.
We're also here to help the Afghan government and our Afghan partners extend the rule of law throughout Afghanistan -- that's extend Afghan law throughout Afghanistan.
Third, we're here to sever the ties between narcotics trafficking and terrorism. There is this connection that can't be denied, and one of our biggest challenges is doing just that.
So really we have two goals working with our counterparts here in Afghanistan, and that's to break the line between narcotics and the insurgency, because narcotics trafficking does fuel the insurgency, and to undermine the narco-corruption nexus.
How do we do that? We started in 2002 by looking at reestablishing an office here in Afghanistan. And we, at the time, sent one agent, then sent a second, and finally a third agent to Afghanistan to offer assistance to the Afghan government, in working with the Minister of Interior to work on capacity building and developing a counternarcotics police force that could, working together, that could develop and go out and extend the rule of law throughout Afghanistan.
That relationship has developed since 2002 to the point where I talked about having three DEA agents in country by about 2003. We, by the end of the year, will have at any one time in Afghanistan over 96 DEA personnel in country. Eighty-one of them are permanent DEA personnel in Afghanistan, all around the country, here on two-year tours.
The important thing you should know about that is these DEA employees are all volunteers. They have raised their hand. They want to help stabilize Afghanistan to be secure, they want to help with the narcotics fight here in this country. So they are here, very dedicated, to primarily help stand up the future DEA of Afghanistan.
We have concentrated our efforts and developed this relationship with the National Interdiction Unit, part of the counternarcotics police of Afghanistan, and a unit called the Sensitive Investigation Unit. The NIU right now is about 246 officers that DEA works with, lives with, trains with, and does operations with 24x7, 7 days a week. We are hoping in the future that that will be expanded to about 550. What we do with the training of those NIU officers, we identify very good officers with investigative skills and we have stood up with our Afghan partners a specialized investigative unit that we call a Sensitive Investigative Unit, we call "SIU." We've got about 56 fully trained, very capable officers. So it's helping stand up those units.
They are to the point where I visited them the other day and they briefed me on an operation they had just done, and I would say it felt to me like I was in the United States getting briefed by one of our task forces on an operation. They had gone out and seized 30 kilos of opium, an RPG. They had multiple AK-47s that they seized. And they did that investigation from start to finish, and it was very impressive.
Now that we have together developed these very good narcotics units, we're able to go to the next step -- and that is integrating civilian and military operations. We have been able to take our DEA agents and take these narcotics officers and move them out to the other provinces and actually collect intelligence, develop informants, and do operations.
So DEA and these NIU officers have been able to integrate with ISAF, and especially down south we've been working with the Marines in Helmand, have done significant operations, especially since last summer. The concentration has been on interdicting the drugs, identifying who the major traffickers are, going after those distributors and those higher level defendants, and seizing weapons caches, seizing narcotics, and following the money -- because the money is what fuels the insurgency.
I traveled to Marjah yesterday and working hand-in-hand with the Marines and with our Afghan partners from the NIU and DEA, there is a very good plan put together to have a very robust interdiction operation going forward there, eventually moving that to other provinces in the south.
I wanted you to know that we did lose three DEA agents in October. They were working on the ground out in one of the western provinces, hand-in-hand with the NIU and with Special Forces and there was a helicopter crash. So it's important. I've lost three agents, DEA agents, here on Afghan soil. And in doing that, however, there is a new commitment by DEA to get the job done here with our Afghan partners, going after those major drug trafficking organizations and violators. We're seeing very good prosecution here. The seizures are unbelievable, and just looking at changes over the last year we've seen many, many successes.
DEA is proud to be a part of the Embassy team here. We had a very successful week not only in Kabul, we got to Kandahar and, as I said, we were in Helmand, in Marjah, [and later today] we'll be up in Kunduz. And it helps me and the headquarters -- DEA headquarters -- team I brought know that...have a better idea of what we can do to help with their Afghan partners, what we can do to continue to develop that intelligence, to target the right violators. And all of that will have such a profound impact on this country with security, number one, and we can cut off that supply, that money supply that is going to the insurgency. And we want to tackle corruption in the country.
So I thank you for coming here today. I wanted to open it up for any questions you might have, and thought if you just had an overview of why DEA is here, proudly here in this country, to help you understand what our mission is.
Question: My question is (inaudible) what's your assessment [of the poppy situation] in Afghanistan? And [the newly released report by UNODC] showed that Afghanistan is now number one, first number in hash production. What's your concern in this regard? And what's your (inaudible) in Afghanistan?
Acting Administrator Leonhart: Thank you for the question. Obviously we're concerned because over 90 percent of the heroin around the world originates from poppy grown here and opium produced here. But I think there is a story to be told here, especially with Helmand. If you look back in 2008, and then fast forward to 2009, we saw such a reduction -- over 30 percent in cultivation in Helmand. Hashish has been a problem here, but you'll find around the world that major drug kingpins often sell marijuana, hashish. It's a cash crop that brings them good revenue. So it's not unlike other places around the world.
We're dealing with that right now in Mexico. We've had great success. In fact, we call it the world's largest drug seizure was a hashish seizure about a year ago here in Afghanistan, DEA agents in cooperation with our Afghan partners.
So we are aware of it. What are we doing about it? Standing up those units was important, and now we've got...we've been able to move to the next level. We've got a number of high value targets identified that we are collectively working together on, and the majority of them are in the south and the majority of them are involved in both opium and heroin and hashish.
So thanks for your question. We've had great successes on the joint operations. Our strategy of working together -- both DEA and the elements of the NIU, the counternarcotics police, and working with ISAF forces -- we conducted over 80 joint operations last year, and they were very successful. It should not be a surprise that we've actually increased opium seizures in this country by 924 percent. That was just in one year. And that is the success of bringing the elements -- civil, military, Afghan partners -- together.
Question: (in Dari via translator) You talked about targeting drug traffickers in Afghanistan. The question is that in the drug trafficking, senior Afghan government officials are also involved, and there are a number of powerful people in this country who are also involved in drug trafficking in this country. Even the Afghan government failed to prosecute them, to arrest them, and to target them.
Recently there was a report that Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of President Karzai, was also accused of drug trafficking. How will you be able to target these powerful drug traffickers in the country?
Acting Administrator Leonhart: I won't address individual traffickers, but I will say I opened up by talking about the determination, working with our Afghan partners, to sever the tie between narcotics and terrorism, but also going after the trade that undermines, narco-corruption that causes corruption in this country.
We go where the evidence takes us. And if there is evidence that there are high level officials within the government, I am very confident that with our partnership with the counternarcotics police, our partnership with the Minister of Interior and others, that we will pursue that. That is going forward. Now that we've built capacity here and we have the ability to work together and do these major investigations together, we will be setting our sights on looking at that corruption angle. We know it's important to do it for the Afghan people.
Question: I'm curious what your thoughts are, can you talk a little bit about what [the plans are for] eradication [in Marjah]? (Inaudible) Russia, I guess, (inaudible). But also the issue of, it seems like the idea is (inaudible) and stuff out of that area. (Inaudible) migrant workers who are coming for part of it (inaudible). In the short term, (inaudible), people who are looking (inaudible) and can't get there?
Acting Administrator Leonhart: Thank you for the question. The DEA, we're the investigative body. I said that our mission is going after the major traffickers, so we really don't have an eradication mission. But my observation is that what we've seen with the Governor Led Eradication -- since 2005 -- has been pretty successful because we've seen more than 80 percent of the eradication in Afghanistan has really been through the Governor Led Eradication program.
I talked about the over 30 percent decrease just in one year in Helmand, which is significant. And then to talk about Marjah specifically, we are beefing up our plans for interdiction with our Afghan partners and the Marines. And it's a plan that's squarely within our mission and we think we can make a difference going forward.
So know that that's a major interest to us, making sure that we get this right, we have the right partners to go forward and make sure that we are doing as much as we can to disrupt and dismantle the organizations that are moving the opium and heroin, especially from the south.
Question: (in Dari via translator) The question is that recently the Minister of Counternarcotics of Afghanistan has raised a concern, expressed a concern saying that only the United States, UK and very recently Canada committed to help fight narcotics in Afghanistan. A special question is why other countries of the world are not contributing this mission to fight narcotics and pursue the traffickers in this country?
Acting Administrator Leonhart: I've seen many more partners than that since 2002. DEA has led an operation called "Operation Containment" that brought together 19 countries, the U.S., and then countries in this region, all concerned with narcotics trafficking and wanting to do what they can to help Afghanistan.
We continue to work with those 19 countries -- and maybe all 19 are not here in Afghanistan, but on a regular basis they are helping us with intelligence, they are helping to jointly target and do operations against those traffickers. So there is much more than the U.S. and Canada and a few other countries here in Afghanistan working on the narcotics problem. And that will grow. We'll grow over the 19 countries. There is an interest to help with the narcotics efforts here.
Question: (in Dari via translator) Anything, a specific number of drug traffickers that have been targeted or arrested during this period of time? And what level were they?
Acting Administrator Leonhart: Let me talk about a specific set of operations. I had talked about those 82 operations that have been conducted just in the past year. The significant arrests of violators, about 54 that we've actually brought to court here. We have over the years had extradition of high value targets here, major kingpins that are facing prosecution in the United States. In fact, some of them were convicted and are serving major sentences.
Then it's also developing the informant network and continuing those investigations. So there are a number of arrests that haven't been made yet. And it's not all about the arrests. It's about the level of the violator, and we're concentrating on that higher level violator and we have many many targets identified around the country -- like I said, most in the south.