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Pentagon Puts Afghan Drug-Traffickers on Hitlist
Fifty Afghans who are suspected of drug trafficking and have ties with the Taliban have been placed on a Pentagon target list to be captured or killed, according to a congressional study to be released this week, the New York Times reported yesterday .
The move, reflecting a shift in US counter-narcotics strategy in Afghanistan, is certain to provoke controversy.
US commanders, who described it an essential part of a plan to disrupt the flow of drug money helping to finance the Taliban insurgency, are reported to have told Congress they are convinced that the policy is legal under the military's rules of engagement and international law.
However, targeting individuals in a deliberate assassination policy is regarded by many Nato countries, and by many lawyers and military advisers in Britain, as unlawful.
"This was a hard sell in Nato," said retired General John Craddock, Nato's supreme allied commander until he retired in July, the New York Times reported.
In interviews with the Senate foreign relations committee, two US generals serving in Afghanistan said major traffickers with known links to the insurgency had been put on the "joint integrated prioritised target list". That means they have been given the same target status as insurgent leaders, and can be captured or killed at any time.
Currently, they said, there were about 50 major traffickers who contribute money to the Taliban on the list.
"We have a list of 367 'kill or capture' targets, including 50 nexus targets who link drugs and the insurgency," one of the generals told the committee staff.
The question of how to deal with the opium poppy harvest and drug trade in Afghanistan, the source of 90% of the world's heroin, has been a highly controversial issue for years. European allies, and Britain in particular, opposed America's initial plan to destroy poppy crops – a policy British military commanders argued would simply drive more Afghan farmers into the hands of the Taliban.
Donald Rumsfeld, then US defence secretary, was opposed to targeting drug barons on the grounds that it would anger warlords he wanted as allies.
More recently, the US and Britain have come round to the view that their special forces and intelligence agencies should target drug barons and their laboratories.
Several individuals suspected of ties to drug trafficking have already been apprehended, and others have been killed by the US military since the new policy went into effect earlier this year, a senior military official told the New York Times.