[cnn-photo-caption image=http://cnnafghanistan.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/t1larg-poppies21.jpg caption="An Afghan farmer displays a poppy plant." width=300 height=169]
As NATO begins one of its biggest offensives in Afghanistan since the beginning of the war, coalition troops face a multitude of challenges. Helmand province is known for its opium production and as a hub of Taliban activity. Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," retired Gen. James Jones, President Barack Obama's national security adviser, said, "One of the ancillary benefits of where this operation is being conducted is in the heart of Helmand province, and that is the center mass of the drug production. Happily, last year for the first time in several years, the poppy production went down and wheat production went up, and so we'll see what happens this year."
Fact Check: Has poppy production decreased in a region of Afghanistan known for its drug links?
– According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), "90 percent of the world's opium comes from Afghanistan."
– A study from the UNODC found that nationwide in Afghanistan the area under opium poppy cultivation decreased 22 percent last year, and opium production was down 10 percent. The report covered the planting cycle from May 2008 through June 2009. A more recent assessment from this month finds that opium production will likely remain stable in 2010.
– Poppy production by hectare peaked in 2007, and had increased most years since 2001.
– Specifically with regard to Helmand province, the area where the operation is under way, the region saw the most significant opium poppy decline in 2009, with cultivation decreasing by a third. The UNODC report credited
strong governmental leadership, incentives for legal crops, and "a more aggressive counter-narcotics offensive."
Bottom Line: The push in the Helmand province is intended to help secure an area that is known for its opium production. Last year poppy production in Afghanistan declined by about one fifth.
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