The news broken by SPIEGEL ONLINE on Wednesday about a controversial order issued by American NATO High Commander Bantz John Craddock to the commanders of the NATO peacekeeping troop ISAF in Afghanistan has angered politicians in Berlin, who are now demanding answers. Members of Germany's parliament from across the political spectrum are calling for an explanation of a fight simmering inside NATO command.
They have also expressly criticized an order that calls on NATO to conduct targeted killings of drug traffickers and to attack narcotics laboratories, even without clear evidence that the targets provide support for terrorist acts against Afghan or Western security forces.
On Wednesday, SPIEGEL ONLINE reported that a dispute had emerged internally among the highest NATO commanders in Afghanistan over the circumstances in which the alliance can apply deadly force. In a classified letter, a so-called, "guidance," which is equivalent to an order on the strategic level, NATO Commander Craddock calls for an immediate offensive hunt for "all drug traffickers and narcotics facilities."
The content of the order is explosive. 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 in the guidance.
In concrete terms, if the order were implemented, it would represent a fundamental new direction for the NATO deployment. Up until now, ISAF troops have only gone on "capture or kill" missions against high-ranking Taliban commanders and al-Qaida terrorists. But the new line of argumentation would make any person involved in the drug business a legitimate military target. The Craddock order could affect tens of thousands of Afghan citizens.
German defense policy experts have expressed outrage over the development and are demanding answers. "If such an order exists, we need to know about it," Rainer Arnold, the center-left Social Democratic Party's defense policy point man in parliament, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Of course we need to go after the drug lords, but there has to be evidence first." He described any attempt to provide carte blanche approval to simply kill suspects as a "totally mistaken approach."
The outrage has permeated every political party. Brigitte Homburger of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), described the order as being "clearly unlawful." She called on the German government to clarify the situation and said Berlin should call for Craddock's removal. A colleague in her party, Elke Hoff, also described the order as an error. "What we need is a plan to fight drug cultivation, not a license to kill suspects without any evidence," she said.
Craddock's order has already triggered numerous telephone conversations between Kabul, NATO headquarters and Washington. The US commander has long been irritated by the refusal of some NATO member states to crack down aggressively on the drug mafia. Craddock has argued that NATO came to an agreement in Budapest in October 2008 to take tougher measures to eliminate drug traffickers because they are "inextricably linked to the Opposing Military Forces, and thus may be attacked."
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is frustrated that the debate has now spilled into the open. "The secretary-general considers it unacceptable that confidential documents have been leaked," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said on Thursday. "He is calling for an immediate investigation into the matter, which will be pursued vigorously."
No one would dispute the fact that opium cultivation has been a lucrative source of revenue for the Taliban. According to what is believed to be an overly conservative NATO estimate, at least $100 million a year flows into the coffers of insurgents through the drug trade.
Inside NATO, massive resistance has emerged against Craddock. Both Egon Ramms, the German head of the NATO Command Center responsible for Afghanistan, and US General David McKiernen, commander of the ISAF troops in Afghanistan, have written that they do not want to follow the order. They believe it is illegitimate and that it violates international law, the "Law of Armed Conflict." Ramm laid out his doubts in a letter, which SPIEGEL ONLINE has obtained.
In Germany, Defense Minister Franz-Josef Jung of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), has tried to keep out of the debate. "This is an internal dispute within NATO," a spokesperson said. "The minister is not going to get involved." Ministry officials noted that Germany's army, the Bundeswehr, has limited its efforts in the fight against drugs in the areas where it is deployed in Afghanistan to providing support for Afghan forces. The same would apply, even after the Craddock order, in northern Afghanistan, where the Bundeswehr is stationed.
Craddock has defended the order. "The most important thing is that no one has issued any orders or done anything illegal," a spokesperson said. But NATO insiders say that Craddock is deeply upset that German General Ramms has refused to execute his order. In Germany, though, the general has received praise. "General Ramms has proven his courage," said FDP politician Hoff. "I hope that politicians in Berlin give him their support."
Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta also criticized the new order. Fundamentally, he said, his country will support future efforts by ISAF security troops to crack down on drug-financed terrorism. But, he told SPIEGEL ONLINE, "each case must be documented." "If we have proof that someone is supporting terrorism with his drug profits," then ISAF should fight against him. But if someone is involved in the drug business but without pursuing any political goals, then he's just a criminal and that's a case for the police," Spanta said.
He also said that ISAF must work closely with Afghanistan's NDS secret service and the Defense Ministry on each case. "We want to avoid civilian victims at all costs," Spanta said.
At NATO, officials on Thursday sought to play down the importance of the dispute. There was no order, but rather a "guidance," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said, adding that there had been a "political decision" by every member state to crackdown on narcotics facilities. He said it was "absolutely normal" for the necessary individual measures to be "discussed" at the military level.
But the document doesn't read like a discussion paper at all. In his Jan. 5, 2009 letter to Ramms, Craddock demanded the immediate execution of his direction. "I ask, therefore, that you direct COM ISAF (an abbreviation for ISAF chief McKiernen) to continue to plan and execute this enhanced counter narcotics campaign as amplified in this letter," Craddock wrote. In the military, however, a direction, like an order, must be obeyed.
Craddock's order relates to the most controversial aspect of the NATO deployments -- so-called "targeting" in military jargon. This targeted "liquidation" of enemies in Afghanistan has so far only been directed at leaders of the radical Islamic Taliban and members of al-Qaida. The precondition for the action is evidence that a person being targeted plays an important role in the armed insurgency against Afghan and Western security forces.
Over periods lasting weeks and even months, intelligence services and militaries exchange information about suspects. At the end, the highest ISAF commander in Kabul, currently US General David McKiernen, together with his staff and legal advisors, determine which names are placed on hit lists and the priority to be given to each "military target."
Despite the controversy over it, the military officials view the practice of "targeting" in Afghanistan as a success. Close to one-third of the Taliban's leadership -- including well over 150 commanders -- have been "neutralized" in this manner, officials at ISAF headquarters in Kabul have said. "In this way we are protecting our soldiers, and part of that is also obtaining intelligence from secret services and capturing and killing them before they kill our people," one high-ranking general at ISAF headquarters said.
Germany, however, has so far refused to participate in so-called "capture or kill" operations -- in other words, the targeted killing of opponents. The classified "caveats" limiting Germany's mandate in the NATO deployment state that the German government considers targeted killings conducted in cases where there was no previous attack to be inconsistent with "international law."
Inside the US military, Craddock is considered a hardliner and relic of the Bush administration. During a meeting of NATO ministers in Budapest, soldiers like Craddock had demanded that a hard line be taken against the Afghan drug lords, whose network extends to the highest levels of government. As often happens, though, countries like Germany that are more reserved about military action said each country deployed in Afghanistan should be left to its own to decide how that goal is achieved.
It remains unclear to what degree the order, which is seen as a provocation within NATO ranks, has the support of current and former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Last week, Gates announced that more aggressive action would be taken against narcotics laboratories. But his opinion may differ from Craddock on whether evidence is needed before a potentially deadly attack can be perpetrated on a drug lord. "If we have evidence that the drug labs and drug lords are supporting the Taliban," Gates said, "then they're fair game."