- Afghanistan - drugs - NATO
AFP - NATO troops operating in Afghanistan should find drug traffickers and "eliminate" them as they would Taliban militants and other insurgents battling the government, the counternarcotics minister says.
"They are the same ... they are supporting terrorism in Afghanistan," General Khodaidad said in an interview with reporters on a visit last week to inspect opium poppy eradication efforts in the southern province of Helmand.
"They are working the same networks," he said of traffickers and insurgents both particularly active in Helmand, heartland of a huge opium industry and a key battleground in the Taliban insurgency.
"They are the same targets. ISAF must locate these targets and eliminate them," he said, referring to NATO's International Security Assistance Force.
NATO's top commander, US General John Craddock, came under fire last month for a similar suggestion, telling commanders he wanted ISAF troops "to attack directly drug producers and facilities throughout Afghanistan."
The orders were later toned down with a spokesman saying ISAF forces would however be able to "engage against narcotics facilities and facilitators where they provide material support to the insurgency."
But minister said: "You cannot differentiate between drug dealers, Taliban, Al-Qaeda and terrorism. They are the same people."
The Afghan government estimates insurgents have bought new weapons with 100 million dollars earned through protecting trafficking routes from village to border last year, he said.
"The person who has Kalashnikovs, the person who is carrying drugs from one place to another, the person who is controlling the convoys, they are supporting terrorism in Afghanistan," he said.
Khodaidad said that ISAF, a multinational force of 55,000 soldiers, was this year taking more interest than ever in supporting Afghan and US-led efforts to fight the drugs trade in Afghanistan.
The force was notably providing air support for poppy eradication teams and transporting officials across the country, generally stepping up its "interest" from last year.
"We need from ISAF to do more reconnaissance on the border with Afghanistan, find their labs, their headquarters, their convoys, and hit the enemy," he said.
"It is drugs which is supporting terrorism, Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
"We must find their location, we must hit their convoys, and to do more interdiction especially on the borders with Pakistan and Iran. It can bring down the capability of the Taliban," he said.
Impoverished Afghanistan produces around 90 percent of the world's opium, which is used to make heroin.
The drugs are trafficked mainly through neighbouring Pakistan and Iran to Europe, Asia and the Middle East, although they are finding a growing number of users at home.
Khodaidad said Afghanistan's fledgling judicial and policing systems were still not capable of capturing and prosecuting the kingpins of the trade, including those in government.
"We have good guys and bad guys," he said. "Especially in the provinces, they are involved in drugs."
"The drug mafia, they are active inside Afghanistan, outside Afghanistan," the minister said. "They are on the border, they are very clever... we are trying to identify these people."
It was this "mafia" that had killed the top judge in Afghanistan's counternarcotics court and a drugs crimes investigator in September, he said.
Alim Hanif, who had been working on cases of corruption, was shot in the heart.
"We are also receiving threats every day by telephones, by messages," Khodaidad said.