BERLIN (AFP) — NATO's supreme commander has sparked a row among top brass with "guidance" for opium dealers in Afghanistan to be killed even without proof of ties to insurgents, a German magazine said Thursday.
Citing a classified document, Spiegel said that US General John Craddock has told commanders he wants troops in the 50,000-strong military alliance "to attack directly drug producers and facilities throughout Afghanistan."
It is "no longer necessary to produce intelligence or other evidence that each particular drug trafficker or narcotics facility in Afghanistan meets the criteria of being a military objective," Spiegel cited Craddock as saying.
The alliance "has decided that (drug traffickers and narcotics facilities) are inextricably linked to the Opposing Military Forces, and thus may be attacked," Spiegel said in its online edition.
The report sparked anger at NATO headquarters in Brussels, with Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer calling for an immediate inquiry into what he called an "unacceptable" leak of a confidential document.
A NATO spokesman, James Appathurai, declined to confirm the content of the directive and played down any talk of a row, saying what had been sent to military commanders was "not an order but guidance."
Spiegel said that the directive was sent on January 5 to Egon Ramms, the German leader at NATO Command in the Netherlands, which is currently in charge of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and to David McKiernan, commander of the ISAF peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.
Neither wants to follow it, Spiegel said, as they believe it is illegitimate and violates both ISAF's rules of engagement and international law.
A classified letter issued by McKiernan's Kabul office claims that Craddock is trying to create a "new category" in the rules of engagement for dealing with opposing forces.
This would "seriously undermine the commitment ISAF has made to the Afghan people and the international community... to restrain our use of force and avoid civilian casualties to the greatest degree predictable," Spiegel cited the letter as saying.
The Taliban, ousted from power seven years ago by a US-led coalition, has been reaping close to 100 million dollars (77 million euros) a year from the opium trade and using the funds to buy weapons to kill NATO troops.
Afghanistan produces around 90 percent of the world's illegal opium, much of which is turned into heroin inside the country and exported to Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia.
The bulk of Afghanistan's opium production is centred in the south of the country, which is also the heart of the Taliban insurgency.
At a meeting in Budapest in October, NATO defence ministers decided to let individual nations hunt down drug lords and laboratories, with the consent of the Afghan government -- but on a voluntary basis.
Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Romania and Spain had led opposition against officially diving into the drug war in earnest for the first time, believing that the Afghans themselves should drive such efforts.
Appathurai said that it was "perfectly normal that there is a discussion within the chain of military command about how this decision is implemented, including on legal issues, so that it conforms with national laws and international conventions."
His comments were echoed by Colonel Derek Crotts, chief of public affairs at NATO's military headquarters.
"No-one has asked or directed anyone to do anything illegal," he said.
"Since the Budapest ministerial NATO meeting, military leadership has been working to develop an effective engagement plan regarding ISAF counter-narcotics operations.
"At this point all the parties concerned are still at the planning stage and there has been no order issued."
The leaking of Craddock's directive may also be part of a power struggle within NATO's top brass, with the US general -- appointed by former US president George W. Bush -- reportedly fearful that he may be replaced by new President Barack Obama.
January 29, 2009