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Feature: Hit List -- US Targets 50 Taliban-Linked Drug Traffickers to Capture or Kill
hidden drug cache, Afghanistan 2008 (from
A congressional study released Tuesday reveals that US military forces occupying Afghanistan have placed 50 drug traffickers on a "capture or kill" list. The list of those targeted for arrest or assassination had previously been reserved for leaders of the insurgency aimed at driving Western forces from Afghanistan and restoring Taliban rule. The addition of drug traffickers to the hit list means the US military will now be capturing or killing criminal -- not political or military -- foes without benefit of warrant or trial.

The policy was announced earlier this year, when the US persuaded reluctant NATO allies to come on board as it began shifting its Afghan drug policy from eradication of peasant poppy fields to trying to interdict opium and heroin in transit out from the country. But it is receiving renewed attention as the fight heats up this summer, and the release of the report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has brought the policy under the spotlight.

The report, Afghanistan's Narco War: Breaking the Link between Drug Traffickers and Insurgents, includes the following highlights:

  • Senior military and civilian officials now believe the Taliban cannot be defeated and good government in Afghanistan cannot be established without cutting off the money generated by Afghanistan's opium industry, which supplies more than 90 percent of the world's heroin and generates an estimated $3 billion a year in profits.
  • As part of the US military expansion in Afghanistan, the Obama administration has assigned US troops a lead role in trying to stop the flow of illicit drug profits that are bankrolling the Taliban and fueling the corruption that undermines the Afghan government. Simultaneously, the United States has set up an intelligence center to analyze the flow of drug money to the Taliban and corrupt Afghan officials, and a task force combining military, intelligence and law enforcement resources from several countries to pursue drug networks linked to the Taliban in southern Afghanistan awaits formal approval.
  • On the civilian side, the administration is dramatically shifting gears on counternarcotics by phasing out eradication efforts in favor of promoting alternative crops and agriculture development. For the first time, the United States will have an agriculture strategy for Afghanistan. While this new strategy is still being finalized, it will focus on efforts to increase agricultural productivity, regenerate the agribusiness sector, rehabilitate watersheds and irrigation systems, and build capacity in the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture Irrigation and Livestock.

While it didn't make the highlights, the following passage bluntly spells out the lengths to which the military is prepared to go to complete its new anti-drug mission: "In a dramatic illustration of the new policy, major drug traffickers who help finance the insurgency are likely to find themselves in the crosshairs of the military. Some 50 of them are now officially on the target list to be killed or captured."

Or, as one US military officer told the committee staff: "We have a list of 367 'kill or capture' targets, including 50 nexus targets who link drugs and insurgency."
burning of captured Afghanistan hashish cache, world record size, 2008 (from
US military commanders argue that the killing of civilian drug trafficking suspects is legal under their rules of engagement and the international law. While the exact rules of engagement are classified, the generals said "the ROE and the internationally recognized Law of War have been interpreted to allow them to put drug traffickers with proven links to the insurgency on a kill list, called the joint integrated prioritized target list."

Not everyone agrees that killing civilian drug traffickers in a foreign country is legal. The UN General Assembly has called for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. In a 2007 report, the International Harm Reduction Association identified the resort to the death penalty for drug offenses as a violation of the UN Charter and Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

"What was striking about the news coverage of this this week was that the culture of US impunity is so entrenched that nobody questioned or even mentioned the fact that extrajudicial murder is illegal under international law, and presumably under US law as well," said Steve Rolles of the British drug reform group Transform. "The UK government could never get away with an assassination list like this, and even when countries like Israel do it, there is widespread condemnation. Imagine the uproar if the Afghans had produced a list of US assassination targets on the basis that US forces in Afghanistan were responsible for thousands of civilian casualties."

Rolles noted that while international law condemns the death penalty for drug offenses, the US policy of "capture or kill" doesn't even necessarily contemplate trying offenders before executing them. "This hit list is something different," he argued. "They are specifically calling for executions without any recourse to trial, prosecution, or legal norms. Whilst a 'war' can arguably create exceptions in terms of targeting 'enemy combatants,' the war on terror and war on drugs are amorphous concepts apparently being used to create a blanket exemption under which almost any actions are justified, whether conventionally viewed as legal or not -- as recent controversies over torture have all too clearly demonstrated."

But observers on this side of the water were more sanguine. "This is arguably no different from US forces trying to capture or kill Taliban leaders," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert on drugs, security, and insurgencies at the Brookings Institution. "As long as you are in a war context and part of your policy is to immobilize the insurgency, this is no different," she said.

"This supposedly focuses on major traffickers closely aligned to the Taliban and Al Qaeda," said Ted Galen Carpenter, a foreign policy analyst for the Cato Institute. "That at least is preferable to going around destroying the opium crops of Afghan farmers, but it is still a questionable strategy," he said.

But even if they can live with hit-listing drug traffickers, both analysts said the success of the policy would depend on how it is implemented. "The major weakness of this new initiative is that it is subject to manipulation -- it creates a huge incentive for rival traffickers or people who simply have a quarrel with someone to finger that person and get US and NATO forces to take him out," said Carpenter, noting that Western forces had been similarly played in the recent past in Afghanistan. "You'll no doubt be amazed by the number of traffickers who are going to be identified as Taliban-linked. Other traffickers will have a vested interest in eliminating the competition."

"This is better than eradication," agreed Felbab-Brown, "but how effective it will be depends to a large extent on how it's implemented. There are potential pitfalls. One is that you send a signal that the best way to be a drug trafficker is to be part of the government. There needs to be a parallel effort to go after traffickers aligned with the government," she said.

"A second pitfall is with deciding the purpose of interdiction," Felbab-Brown continued. "This is being billed as a way to bankrupt the Taliban, but I am skeptical about that, and there is the danger that expectations will not be met. Perhaps this should be focused on limiting the traffickers' power to corrupt and coerce the state."

Another danger, said Felbab-Brown, is if the policy is implemented too broadly. "If the policy targets low-level traders even if they are aligned with the Taliban or targets extensive networks of trafficking organizations and ends up arresting thousands of people, its disruptive effects may be indistinguishable from eradication at the local level. That would be economically hurting populations the international community is trying to court."

Felbab-Brown pointed to the Colombian and Mexican examples to highlight another potential pitfall for the policy of targeting Taliban-linked traffickers. "Such operations could end up allowing the Taliban to take more control over trafficking, as in Colombia after the Medellin and Cali cartels were destroyed, where the FARC and the paramilitaries ended up becoming major players," she warned. "Or like Mexico, where the traffickers have responded by fighting back against the state. This could add another dimension to the conflict and increase the levels of violence."

The level of violence is already at its highest level since the US invasion and occupation nearly eight years ago. Last month was the bloodiest month of the war for Western troops, with 76 US and NATO soldiers killed. As of Wednesday, another 28 have been killed this month.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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drug war

Anonymous, I am sorry you will not come out of the closet and expose your name, relating to your comment, however, I understand, your job your family and rep. I stand proudly against these atrocities commited in the name of War on drugs. Then again, it is my life passion and I will fight it outside of the circumference of US law, I do not use, I did at one time and and I never pillaged, used violence or sold to non-users.
As far as your comment, I agree, but it is already happening. I wonder how a minority can lead an entire nation and nations down these horrific paths. US is in Afghanistan, itself competing for the vast profits of the heroin trade. They are all in the same boat, vying for leadership. We know the US will never win this drug war and it is only a front for profit and power. The US military leaders and government intelligence is as dangerous as the Taliban. If we are at all trying to protect women in Afghanistan, then, that is only part of the lie. Women under the Taliban were publicly abused and killed. In the US women and children are abused daily and we have not solved our own problem yet. I stand for women everywhere. I don't care if you use drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes, as long as you do not hurt others. This IZ a personal choice as to what we put in our body. Ingesting harmful irradiated, genetically modified and tainted processed food is more harmful than any illegal drug. I think you know all this, and you spoke out and stated you were willing to participate in 'Episode of Ultimate warrior." I would prefer to see a real fight between the people and the Drug warriors as we are participating in now, yet, one with a clear plan of legalizaton of all drugs. We know prohibition does not work, yet we continue as sheep do as they are told. But sheep do not have the capacity to think as we do and we are not sheep. I do not know how many people realize the propaganda behind the dw. But by reading one book , or accessing site online such as DPA, people would get it and are starting to get it. So I will support the non-violent effort or war against the drug war. Most other countries are on to the US intervention and are backing out. Canada already is looking the other way. There will be no Super-max prisons built for the persons who chose to use any natural growing plant. So many do not care in this country, USA, about the drug war and accept current policy. Even when their own families are affected, which is most of us. 2.5 million and growing. I do not know your age, and I consider myself rational. I would also like to see cops vs militia but they are one in the same. Only people will change this holocaust based on greed by individuals of the US and others involved. We will look back on this era of history, as we look back at other disasters. If the earth can sustain itself under current conditions. I hope you will state your own real name and be counted as warrior against this war. The Vietnam war was the same. Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam the largest opium fields in Asia and we went in. Why? To transport heroin to US and Europe. No other reason to be there. Refer" Heroin Solution". Open waterways and sky for import of heroin without interference from coast guard or sky. And in large enough quantities to really get the US drug war going again. As you know the 1700 and 1800 Britain/China wars or opium wars were all lost by the Chinese. The Emporer of china in 1800 was humbled to accept more and more opium from England via India tea, while many of his country men became addicted. This war has to be won by the people who declare openly that we want our rights back according to the constitution. There was nothing about drug war in constitution. Drug war affects everything. EVERYTHING. It is the most for profit next to oil and the people of the US will not look at the facts. Whenever we post anonymous, we are making a statement as well.

Thanks for agreeing... most of the time?

You are right my anonymity is out of neccessity. I work in 'the public trust' which requires licenses that can be revoked. And even though I live in the Pacific NW there is no shortage of fundamentalist prohibitionists that would happily hang me to save me... it's how they show love. So yes, the coercive nature of the drug war is always an issue. I've been smoking responsibly since '75 and fighting the principle of illegal marijuana prohibition ever since. I look at laws the same way I must consider legal contracts. If the law/contract is based on fraud, as is the drug war, then that law/contract is void and unenforcible. And the party committing fraud may be sued for liability and damages! Life, Liberty, the Pursuit of Happiness (and Legally Aquired Property) are our basic self-evident inalienable rights... not poker chips for criminals in gov't to wager. I'm a fan of Thomas Paine (classic liberal & reasoned conservative) and Thomas Jefferson. And Jefferson advocates abolishing the institutions that run counter to our rights! Your comment on cops and militia being the same is not entirely right though it may be the norm - most militias probably consist of conservative christians - but that would correspond to 'a christian nation'. But a group of individuals can create their own 'militia' with their own ideology. Consider the militant 'Black Panthers', and later the 'White Panthers'
who can be considered militias. Anyone could create and command a 'Green Panther' militia designed to protect the intersts of growers and dispensories against common enemies acting outside the rule of law. Would be a great piece of pulp fiction anyway... something i'm working on now! The 10th amendment of the constitution is clear. Powers not delegated to the fed. - like llegal prohibitions w/o const. amendments - belong to the states or to the people. Republicans will sometimes rally to the 10th but won't embrace the 4th or 8th amendments. The 4th protects us from unreasonable searches, arrests & seizures of property - such as arresting people for a drug safer than alcohol and stealing legally aquired property in the name of asset-forfeiture. The 8th protects against excessive bail and cruel or unusual punishment - again you could get less jail time for man- slaughter while high on alcohol then growing your own medicine for personal use... how cruel and unusual is that. At the end of the day when we recreate we all exercise the same right... 'the pursuit of happiness'. What extra rights does 'Joe Six-Pack' or 'Black-out Bob' have that 'Tony the Toker' doesn't? ZERO MORE RIGHTS! The right to alcohol, cannabis, and religion is exactly the same! Thx, for the comment... constructive criticisms always welcome!

Murder, by any other word, is still MURDER!

If widening the U.S. war on drugs is what Obama meant by change, the American people have made a big mistake. The U.S. military's newly(?) instituted policy of selectively executing supposed drug traffickers without benefit of judicial sanction is murder plain and simple. It goes beyond what even Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany practiced during their tenures. The U. S. A. is the new Gulag replete with crowded concentration camps (the U.S. prison system; largest in the world). How long before the killing fields come home to roost? Let the Revolution begin!


The Taliban is a fantic group of Islamists who believe in taking no drugs of any sort. How can it be that the people who grow poppies have all of a sudden become Taliban? The truth is, they aren't. The people who are trafficking in narcotics are definitely not Taliban. The government changes their definitions to fit whoever they want to kill at the moment. It takes not much effort to find out who the Taliban are. When they started their freedom fight, it was so they could kill their women or anyone else who didn't adhere to their view of the Quaran. When the USSR tried to return Afghanistan to the peaceful population by getting rid of the radical group the U.S. called "freedom fighters' for their own purposes, specifically, just to do anything they could to the USSR. Without U.S. help(Charlie Wilson's war), the Taliban would have eventually been defeated and Afghanistan would have remained the poppy source for the world. After the USSR got their fill of being defeated by U.S. weapons supplied to the Taliban and withdrew, the country was taken over by Taliban crazies and poppy growing war lords who had only profits in mind. I remember quite well how all this played out. When the U.S. went back to Afghanistan to take over the country, our military was attacked by the thousands of leftover Stinger missiles supplied by the U.S. to defeat the Soviets. No one, cincluding the French, British, Iraelis, Soviets and now the U.S. has ever controlled that country and no country ever will. It's just more of U.S. strongarm tactics to make sure the conflict continues and the arms makers and their support companies(Halliburton) continue to make hordes of money. The U.S. could actually care less about the people of this country.

The Taliban is a fantic

The Taliban is a fantic group of Islamists who believe in taking no drugs of any sort. How can it be that the people who grow poppies have all of a sudden become Taliban?

While Islamic fanatics don't take drugs themselves, they are more than happy to use them to raise money and corrupt the people they have deemed their enemies.

This hit list isn't targeting the farmers who grow poppies. It targets major drug traffickers who are using their huge profits to support an army that is at war with the United States. Cutting off their funds translates directly into lessening their ability to field troops against us.

And Karzai's brother laughs

[email protected],Vancouver,B.C.Canada Here is a person that believes there is truth and justice in everything Amerika stands for.The Taliban had poppy production down to just over 800 tonnes a year.After the US invasion it shot up(no pun intended)to over 3 thousand.Just a coincidence?Targeting traffickers and pretending that it is part of the war on terror is just more of your governments duplicitous crap.This is murder.There is no justification for murder like this.When there is no oversight there can be no justification for killing of anyone on the basis of information provided by a government that is complicit in the trade itself.This is a hit list and is gangsterism at it's imperious best.How long will it be until air amerika is at it again?I have no doubt that there are the seeds being sown as I type this missive.The drug war has just been merged with the so called war on terror.I shudder to think what that means for the world in the future.Amerika has proven once again that it is the bully on the block.If you're in our way,we'll kill you.That's the message here.If that makes you proud,you're something less than human.The drug warriors are becoming more desperate with every passing day as the world has become weary of their terroristic propaganda and their futile efforts to control human behavior with brute force.It's always the little guy that suffers most from any such edicts.We only need to look at the way drug laws are enforced on the streets of Amerika to see how this will end up.Giving carte blanche to soldiers to kill people on sight will lead to countless mistakes and many needless deaths but that is SOP for Amerika.To read something from someone so deluded is frightening.I hope you are just a federal employee paid to say such nonsense.I would hate to think someone actually believes such folly.

Consequences of hashish suppression

Throughout the summary above, there is unfortunately no mention of the fact that the US, doubtless acting in the interest of Big 2Wackgo as it has for more than a century, suppressed the Afghan hashish bizness in the 70's with opium taking over as we know today. (In Berlin I had a taste or two of the fabulous black Schimmelafghan, so-named because it had a coating of white mold on the outside of the cakes.)

So it was troubling to see appended to the article a picture of a "World Record" quantity of hashish being destroyed-- while Realpolitiker were quoted saying maybe destroying the opium crop wasn't the best idea. "Which side are they on?"

Meanwhile, houses will be robotbombed in an attempt to kill "traffickers" while a solution to the whole sorry mess is at hand, if we'll only consider it.

1. Legalize cannabis worldwide.

2. Bypass the perfidious cigarette-training-tool "joint" and nicotine-infested "blunt" and even the hashish, by sending advisors to help Afghan farmers resume raising cannabis-- both for consumption and for industry and reforestation. Teach them to set up factories where the "honey oil" is refined and inserted into cartridges for use in E-CIGARETTES worldwide, replacing the controversial and doubtless dangerous smoking procedures, inherited from Big 2Wackgo, which gave cannabis an undeserved bad name. This will put Afghanistan on its feet economically and solve a $+!!tload of problems worldwide.


[email protected],Vancouver,B.C.CanadaIt's amazing how people seem to think the Taliban are the only fanatic liars involved in this mess.They may be a blight on the world but they are only doing what the Amerikan government paid and empowered them to do.Now it's not the Russians who are the invaders,it's Amerika.The chickens truly have come home to roost.Furthering the war on drugs by claiming the Taliban are running the drug trade is a joke.If you don't know that,it's because you don't take the time to inform yourself about what is actually going on in the world.Try turning off faux news for one minute and take the time to learn about exactly what the issues are and who the number one traffickers are in Afghanistan.Hit lists are for gangsters.This tells you what your country is all about.The civilised world says this is murder.

our drug war soldiers

here at home get to gun down unarmed drug suspects; I guess we might as well let the real soldiers get in on the fun. Now the Taliban will have an excuse to kill even more Americans, which will generate even more hate here at home, which suits the agenda of our "Christian" leaders just fine.

Wait till these battle hardened DEA agents hit our streets!

What better way to militarize the drug warrior then by putting the DEA (Dumb Evil Assholes) into foreign wars?

So now these adrenaline junkies and 'punishers' are gonna be post traumatic time-bombs waiting to go off in american streets on american 'patrons'.

Go Drugged Warriors (on alcohol) Go!

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