Leak about Afghan tactics forces NATO to backtrack

BERLIN — NATO was reeling Friday after the leaking of a classified document in which the military alliance’s supreme commander of Europe proposed that NATO soldiers serving in Afghanistan shoot drug traffickers without waiting for proof.

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The proposal by General John Craddock was criticized by all political parties here for flouting international law and for altering NATO’s mission in Afghanistan. Such an order, they said, would signal a major shift in how the alliance intends to deal with the Afghan insurgency and the opium trade that finances the Taliban and other groups fighting the 55,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

In a letter he wrote Jan. 5 to General Egon Ramms, a German who heads the NATO Command Center responsible for Afghanistan, Craddock said that «it was 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.»

In his reply, Ramms questioned the legality of the proposal, which he contended would violate international law and the law of armed conflict. He offered other recommendations, said a NATO diplomat who insisted on anonymity.

General David McKiernen, U.S. commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan, also objected to the proposal, which was leaked Thursday to Spiegel Online. NATO officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the existence of the proposal and of Craddock’s Jan. 5 letter.

NATO would not comment Friday on the particulars of Craddock’s proposal or on Ramms’s reply. «We will not comment on the substance,» said a spokesman, James Appathurai, who added: «What I will say is that General Craddock never issued final orders. No action was given.»

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO’s secretary general, has ordered an investigation into how the proposal was leaked. «There will be no stone left unturned,» he told NATO diplomats Friday. In a statement announcing the investigation, he also said «no illegal orders were given.»

The leak came days before top political, military and security officials are scheduled to gather in Munich for an annual security conference to discuss, among other issues, the growing insurgency in Afghanistan; it could be divisive for the 26-member NATO alliance, which has been grappling for months over how to deal with the insurgency.

Craddock drew up the proposal for dealing with opium trafficking after a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Budapest in October, during which they agreed to destroy any drug laboratories «and facilitators» who supported the insurgency.

But that strategy was arrived at by all 26 alliance members only after considerable opposition from Germany, France and other countries. They feared that NATO would be dragged into a situation in which communities that depend on the opium trade for their livelihoods would turn against NATO and bolster the insurgency.

Craddock was appointed in 2007 as supreme commander in Europe and military chief of NATO.

ARMY OFFICER NAMED ENVOY

The Obama administration has picked Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, a former top military commander in Afghanistan, to be the next U.S. ambassador to Kabul, an administration official said Thursday, Eric Schmitt reported from Washington.

Tapping a career army officer who will soon retire from the service to fill one of the most sensitive U.S. diplomatic jobs is a highly unusual choice.

But Afghanistan specialists said that Eikenberry, who served there twice, including an 18-month command tour that ended in 2007, knows the players well. That is a valuable commodity in a year when the United States will send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan and the country will hold presidential elections. Eikenberry sounded some of the first alarms about a resurgent Taliban and the need to keep the country from backsliding into anarchy.

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DEL