BUDAPEST | NATO defense ministers on Friday authorized their troops in Afghanistan to attack drug barons blamed for putting as much as $100 million a year into the pockets of resurgent Taliban fighters.
“With regard to counternarcotics … ISAF can act in concert with the Afghans against facilities and facilitators supporting the insurgency,” said NATO spokesman James Appathurai, referring to the NATO force.
The United States has pushed for NATO’s 50,000 troops to take on a counternarcotics role to hit back at the Taliban, whose increasing attacks have cast doubt on the prospects of a Western military victory in Afghanistan.
However, Germany, Spain and others were wary and their doubts led to NATO imposing conditions on the anti-drug mandate for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
Troops will only be able to act against drug facilities if authorized by their own governments; only drug producers deemed to be supporting the insurgency will be targeted; and the operation must be designed to be temporary - lasting only until the Afghan security forces are deemed able to take on the task.
NATO defense ministers will review the success of the mission when they meet in February in Poland. Despite the limitations, NATO’s top commander said the agreement gave him sufficient authority to act against the Taliban’s drug lord backers.
“We now have the ability to move forward in an area that affects the security and stability of Afghanistan,” said U.S. Gen. John Craddock. “It will allow us to reduce the funding and income to the insurgents.”
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who pressed for the anti-drug effort, welcomed the NATO deal.
He said the Unites States and Britain are interested in attacking the drug problem, along with some other countries.
Since the bulk of the drug problems are in the southern part of the country, he said it is likely troops there will be more willing to interdict drugs than those in other locations.
The split is not unusual, since some countries already limit the use of their troops in Afghanistan based on what are called caveats. The restriction include how, where or when some troops will fight.
Germany and Spain agreed to the anti-drug mission after an appeal for help from Afghanistan’s defense minister.
“We’ve asked NATO to please support us, support our effort in destroying the labs and also the interdiction of the drugs and the chemical precursors that are coming from outside the country for making heroin,” Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak told reporters after meeting his NATO counterparts Thursday.
Afghanistan supplies 90 percent of the world’s heroin, a trade worth billions of dollars.
Until now, responsibility for dealing with the problem has lain with the Afghan police, but NATO commanders believe the fledgling force cannot cope with the problem. They say the time has come for NATO to move against the drug barons.