NATO Commanders Reluctant to Launch Anti-Drug Operations

Both Legality, Safety of Operation Feared

by Jason Ditz, December 24, 2008

Getting NATO to agree to the US plan to dramatically escalate the war on drugs in Afghanistan was no small task. Tired of trying to persuade the nations of the necessity of the operation, perpetually exasperated General John Craddock lashed out at NATO allies in October, claiming those who didn’t agree with the US position “have not listened to the argument.”

Military commanders continued to complain, but in the end NATO did agree to ratchet up attacks on the opium industry in the dirt-poor nation. But agreeing to do something and actually doing it are two different things, and it seems that those commanders, still wracked with doubt, are holding back.

NATO agreed at Budapest on a plan of action, stopping short of torching fields. But citing legal concerns, the commanders remain reluctant to engage in counternarcotics operations. They also fear attacks on one of the few viable industries in the nation will alienate the population and rile up the insurgency all the more. RAND analyst Seth Jones conceded that “talking about narcotics policy when you don’t control territory is putting the cart before the horse.”

Yet it is a cart General Craddock and General McKiernan seems intent to pull forward as far and fast as possible, horse be damned. McKiernan insists the goal remains to approve rules of engagement that “give us greater freedom of action to treat narco-figures and facilities as military objectives.” With the nation falling increasingly under Taliban control, it seems like an odd goal for the commander of a military force to have.

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