General to NATO: “Give me a break” on Afghan drugs

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – NATO’s top operations commander hit out Monday at allies resisting his call for the alliance to use more aggressive tactics against Afghan drug production.

“We still have a handful of nations…who have not listened to the argument but are countering with questions that have been answered over and over and over again,” NATO Supreme Commander for Europe General John Craddock told a seminar in Brussels.

The U.S. general, who has called for tougher action against drug labs and trafficking networks, rejected the idea that his proposal would worsen the Taliban insurgency and stressed it would not involve targeting farmers’ crops.

“This is not about eradication. The fear that this will make the Taliban more mad at us? Give me a break!” he said.

“What are these suicide bombs and IEDs, these terrorist attacks, all about? How can it be any worse?”

Craddock quoted U.N. estimates that the trade in drugs was bringing in about $100 million every year to the Taliban and said the trade also fueled corruption in the Afghan government.

“If we can take away the wherewithal that they can build these bombs, the ability to buy the materiel and pay the bomb maker, the ability to buy the bullets and pay the trigger puller, isn’t that a good thing?” he asked.

“I will not rest until I have exhausted every avenue to convince the political leaders of NATO that this is a moral requirement to protect their forces.”

NATO allies have been considering Craddock’s call for the alliance to take a more direct role in counter-narcotics operations by targeting drug labs and trafficking facilities.

Craddock did not name the nations holding up the plan.

However, Germany’s mandate for its troops specifically prevents them taking part in counter-narcotics, due to concerns this could increase risks to its soldiers in Afghanistan.

Britain, which has the lead role in the international anti-drug effort in Afghanistan, has expressed concern about the risk of civilian casualties, which have generated ill-feeling toward foreign forces.

British officials say Britain does not oppose a more active NATO role, but says there needs to be a proven link between potential targets and insurgency.

Craddock told Reuters he was confident a change of policy would eventually be achieved, hopefully “sooner rather than later.”

Afghanistan broke all records and produced 93 percent of the world’s opium in 2007, although production fell slightly this year to 7,700 tons from a previous 8,200 tons.

In a separate controversy among NATO allies, Craddock held out the prospect of NATO’s Rapid Response Force being used to reinforce foreign troop numbers to protect presidential elections in Afghanistan next year.

He said the NATO led International Security Assistance Force was requesting more troops and he would make recommendations, that could include use of the NRF, for NATO states to approve.

Some NATO states have long opposed using a force set up specifically to respond quickly to unexpected events to bolster security for a long-scheduled set-piece event.

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