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Britain and US at odds over opium field eradication plan

Britain will fund the destruction of opium fields in Afghanistan, despite the United States condemning it as a waste of money.

The government said destroying poppy fields was one of the pillars of its anti-opium strategy in the southern province of Helmand.

The statement was made a day after Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said destroying the crop drove poor farmers to join the Taliban. He said the US would stop funding poppy eradication and concentrate on encouraging farmers to grow alternative crops.

"The farmers are not our enemy, they're just growing a crop to make a living. It's the drug system," he said. "So the US policy was driving people into the hands of the Taliban."

Afghanistan supplies over 90pc of the world's heroin, and 60pc of that is grown in Helmand. The government is spending more than £290m on a three-year programme of eradication, support for farmers, and pursuit of traffickers.

British officials denied there was a clash with the US over the policy change, and said the final details of the plans had not yet been decided. The Afghan government backed Britain and defended its efforts, which relied on ripping up or flattening poppy plants, as "perfect".

US troops arrived in Helmand this month, after Nato commanders admitted overstretched British troops have reached a "stalemate" with the Taliban. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

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