Afghan druglords with Taliban connection targeted

The shift in US policy is due to the fact that Afghans provide 90 pc of the worlds heroin supply

Funding insurgency A farmer collects resin from his poppy field near Khosh Gombaz, Afghanistan. NYT

US military commanders have told Congress that they are convinced that the policy is legal under the military’s rules of engagement and international law. They also said the move was an essential part of their new plan to disrupt the flow of drug money that is helping finance the Taliban insurgency.

In interviews with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is releasing the report, two American generals serving in Afghanistan said major traffickers with proven 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.

The generals told Senate staff members that two credible sources and substantial additional evidence were required before a trafficker was placed on the list, and that only those providing support to the insurgency would be made targets.
Currently, they said, there are 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 generals were not identified in the Senate report.
The shift in policy comes as the US administration, deep into the war in Afghanistan, makes significant changes to its strategy for dealing with that country’s lucrative drug trade, which provides 90 per cent of the world’s heroin and has led to substantial government corruption.
Hit list ready
The Senate report’s disclosure of a hit list for drug traffickers may lead to criticism in the US over the expansion of the military’s mission, and NATO allies have already raised questions about the strategy of killing individuals who are not traditional military targets.
For years the American-led mission in Afghanistan had focused on destroying poppy crops. Pentagon officials have said their new emphasis is on weaning local farmers from the drug trade — including the possibility of paying them to grow nothing — and going after the drug runners and drug lords. But the Senate report is the first account of a policy to actually place drug chieftains aligned with the Taliban on a ‘kill or capture’ list.
Lt Col Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, would not comment on the Senate report, but said “there is a positive, well-known connection between the drug trade and financing for the insurgency and terrorism.” Without directly addressing the existence of the target list, he said it was “important to clarify that we are targeting terrorists with links to the drug trade, rather than targeting drug traffickers with links to terrorism.”

Several individuals with suspected 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 with direct knowledge of the matter said in an interview. Most of the targets are in southern and eastern Afghanistan, where both the drug trade and the insurgency are the most intense.

One American military officer serving in Afghanistan described the purpose of the target list for the Senate committee. “Our long-term approach is to identify the regional drug figures,” the unidentified officer is quoted as saying in the Senate report. The goal, he said, is to “persuade them to choose legitimacy, or remove them from the battlefield.”

Shunned earlier
Under former Defence Secretary Donald H Rumsfeld, the Pentagon fiercely resisted efforts to draw the US military into supporting counter-narcotics efforts. Top military commanders feared that trying to prevent drug trafficking would only antagonise corrupt regional warlords whose support they needed, and might turn more of the populace against American troops.

It was only in the last year or two of the Bush administration that the US began to recognise that the Taliban insurgency was being revived with the help of drug money.
The policy of going after drug lords is likely to raise legal concerns from some NATO countries that have troops in Afghanistan. Several NATO countries initially questioned whether the new policy would comply with international law.

“This was a hard sell in NATO,” said retired Gen John Craddock, who was supreme allied commander of NATO forces till July.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the secretary general of NATO until last month, told the Senate committee staff that to deal with the concerns of other nations with troops in Afghanistan, safeguards had been put in place to make sure the alliance remained within legal bounds while pursuing drug traffickers. Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, is also informed before a mission takes place, according to a senior military official.
Craddock said some NATO countries were also concerned that the new policy would draw the drug lords closer to the Taliban, because they would turn to them for more protection. “But the opposite is the case, since it weakens the Taliban, so they can’t provide that protection,” he said.

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