Teapot Tempest?

/ January 29, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Reports of new directions from NATO's top general about the conduct of counterdrug operations in Afghanistan have begun making huge waves in Germany.

According to the German news magazine Der Spiegel, U.S. Army Gen. Bantz Craddock earlier this month issued secret guidance instructing commanders in Afghanistan "to attack directly drug producers and facilities" in that country.

According to the document, deadly force is to be used even in those cases where there is no proof that suspects are actively engaged in the armed resistance against the Afghanistan government or against Western troops. 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," Craddock writes.

The article further says ISAF Commander Gen. David McKiernan, also an American, already has signaled he would not follow Craddock's order.

McKiernan's recent statements indicate he objects to overly heavy-handed military action in the campaign against insurgents in Afghanistan.

In response to the Spiegel article, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hopp Scheffer announced today he had initiated an investigation into the leak of the classified guidance document to the magazine reporter.

Whether or not the Spiegel's reporting is accurate, German politicians are up in arms about it, according to a follow-up story posted on the magazine's Web site today.

What the European media might not know is that Craddock actually mentioned his new counterdrug guidance during a breakfast with reporters in Washington earlier this month. That Jan. 9 breakfast took place only days after he transmitted the guidance document to senior NATO commanders.

His comments offer some much-needed nuance to what could become a major debate in the days ahead.

In essence, Craddock argued, decisions reached at an October 2008 NATO defense ministerial in Budapest, Hungary, changed the game for NATO counterdrug operations. Coalition forces, previously restricted to providing logistical and intelligence support to Afghan-led counterdrug missions, now are allowed to act in a leading role, Craddock said.

"We asked for authorities to be able to attack their facilities . . . where the value is added ((by)) turning poppies to . . . heroin, and the facilitators, the traffickers, who move the drugs from the labs out of the country," Craddock said. "We were granted that authority."

"There's now work in progress to translate that authority into implementation procedures. The guidance has been issued. I have done that. Now we have to move that into new plans and operations to be able to intercept, intercede, destroy facilities ((and)) precursor chemicals" imported from outside the country, Craddock said.

-- Sebastian Sprenger