ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News
Despite cooling relations between the two countries over the past several years, Turkey is and has always been one of America's best friends in the field of narcotics law enforcement said an official from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, or DEA. The DEA's relationship which has 85 offices in 63 foreign countries, has always been particularly deep with Turkey.
�We have had a longer relationship with Turkey than any with other law enforcement agency in Central Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe,� said Mark Destito, regional director at the DEA Ankara Regional Office, which covers the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
�With all the opiates from Afghanistan having sprung up, it's put more pressure on this area of the world,� Destito told the Turkish Daily News, adding, �But we've been here long before that. We were here when a lot of the opium was produced in Turkey years ago.�
The DEA's involvement in Turkey began in 1961 when its predecessor, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, established an office in Istanbul. A second office was opened in Ankara by the Bureau of Narcotic and Dangerous Drugs in 1971 and both offices were consolidated in 1973 with the establishment of the DEA.
Besides its long history, the DEA has also enjoyed a strong relationship with the Turkish Police, one of its main counterparts. �As far as our relationship (with the Turkish Police), is very good. We continue to work joint investigations, we have done numerous trainings with them, we share different types of techniques and it's actually all very, very good,� Destito told the TDN.
Which is why the DEA kicked off its 26th International Drug Enforcement Conference, or IDEC, in Istanbul yesterday in partnership with the Directorate of the Turkish National Police. The IDEC was established in 1983 by the DEA in order to bring together top narcotics officials in the Western hemisphere.
Turkey's recent drug successes
Turkey is in a particularly sensitive location because of geographic conditions and instability in neighboring countries said Interior Minister Beşir Atalay at the IDEC, �Turkey has made drug trafficking and drug abuse a state policy. This administration in particular considers the matter of great importance.�
In 2006 the administration declared a national strategy and policy regarding narcotics that covered the 2006-2012 period, and in 2007 the first National Narcotics Action Plan, aiming to eliminate demand, came into effect. This systematic struggle has largely removed Turkey from being a transit route. �We as the administration and the ministry have decided that we will no longer allow Turkey to be used as a transit nation,� said Atalay.
In 2006 there were 10,580 operations against narcotics, with 21,783 people, 23,817 kilograms of opium, and 8,816 kilograms of heroin apprehended. In 2007 there were 12,649 operations, with 28,657 people apprehended and 31,660 kilograms of opium, 11,254 kilograms of heroin, 116 kilograms of cocaine, 1,032,000 tablets of ecstasy and 7,609 tablets of Captagon taken. Atalay attributed the drastic rise in numbers since the 1970s not to greater amounts of narcotics entering Turkey, but to more effective law enforcement. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime's 2007 World Narcotics report stated that Turkey had apprehended 14 percent of world heroin on its own.
Turkey's successes have not gone unnoticed by the DEA. �They have done a tremendous job. They have really put a lot of resources into it. Turkish law enforcement has seized more opium, more heroin, than pretty much all the surrounding countries have together in the last couple of years. In fact, the enforcement efforts have been so successful that many traffickers have been taking up a more northern route,� Destito told the TDN.
Destito pointed out that the DEA's bottom line is not just to ensure that drugs don't get to the United States, but is to dismantle and disrupt drug trafficking organizations worldwide -- a mission Turkey has embraced as well, according to Destito. �That's the impressive thing about Turkey. It has been very willing to share with other law enforcement entities of other countries information that they received about narcotic trafficking, even when it doesn't directly affect Turkey. And that's what this IDEC is all about.�