On Jan. 30, General Bantz John Craddock gave up. On that day, the NATO High Commander retracted an order calling on troops fighting in Afghanistan with NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to attack drug traffickers and facilities. Many of Craddock's comrades found the order unpalatable -- it explicitly directed NATO troops to kill those involved in the drug trade even if there was no proof that they supported insurgents fighting against NATO or Afghan security forces.
General Egon Ramms, from Germany, who heads up the NATO command center responsible for Afghanistan in Brunssum, the Netherlands, expressed his displeasure with the order as did US General David McKiernan, who heads up the NATO command in Afghanistan. Both felt that the order violated ISAF rules of engagement as well as international law .
Craddock was extremely upset by the resistance from his subordinates, insiders report. They say he even considered sending a written demand to Berlin that General Ramms be relieved of duty. In the end, though, the US general bowed to the inevitable and made the change demanded by both Ramms and McKiernan. Instead of being given a free hand against drug traffickers, NATO troops will continue to be allowed to attack only those drug traffickers with provable ties to insurgents and terror groups. The change, a NATO spokesperson said on Wednesday, means that the incident is over.
SPIEGEL reported on the Craddock order -- and the disagreement within NATO leadership -- on Jan. 29. Since then, NATO has made every effort to play down the dispute and attempted to portray Craddock's "guidance" as little more than a proposal to be commented on by his subordinates. Such a procedure, however, is hardly common practice within the NATO chain of command. At the operational level, no orders are issued -- there are only "guidances" and "directions," explains retired four-star General Dieter Stöckmann, who served as NATO deputy high commander in Mons, Belgium until 2002. Speaking from his experience, Stöckmann said "a guidance is not a recommendation. Rather it is clearly a binding order."
The contentious contents of Craddock's paper unleashed dismay throughout the alliance and across the political spectrum. "Afghan people are not chickens whom one could hunt whenever one wanted to," commented Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta.
"This does not reflect the decision made by the defense ministers during their meeting in Budapest and does not represent the positions of the member states," Robert Farla, spokesman for the Dutch Embassy in Berlin, told SPIEGEL on Wednesday. "We hold the view that one can destroy targets that have a relationship with the Taliban, and not all drug traffickers have such a relationship." Dutch troops are stationed in the province of Uruzgan in southern Afghanistan.
"Surely that is not the result of the NATO defense minister meeting," said Danish defense expert Morten Helveg-Petersen. The parliamentarian said he would like to see an alliance-wide discussion on how best to approach the battle against drug cultivation and trade in Afghanistan. "I can't imagine that we have such a difference of opinion here," he said.
Craddock remained unflinching as the debate unfolded. For him, it is a proven fact that all drug traffickers help finance the radical Islamists of the Taliban. The NATO Council, he said at the beginning of the week in Kabul, has confirmed the connection between the drug trade and the insurgents. "I have never issued an illegal order," he said.
It remains unclear what role NATO General Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer played in the incident. Craddock claimed he had the backing of both Scheffer and of NATO defense ministers, who met in Budapest last October. "My views of the Budapest Decision as expressed above," Craddock wrote in the Jan. 5 letter in which he issued his guidance, "are also endorsed by the Secretary General, based on his interpretation of the direction issued by the NAC (NATO Council) acting at the level of defense ministers."
German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, though, refused to distance himself from Craddock's controversial order. There will be "no criticism of Craddock's letter to be heard" from the Berlin Defense Ministry, spokesman Thomas Raabe said last week, before it was clear that Craddock would be forced to back down. But while German General Ramms was rebuffed by his boss in Berlin, the 60-year-old received support from all political parties in German parliament.
Ramms has been in bed with the flu for the past week. "This incident hasn't done much to assist in his recuperation," said his spokesman in Brunssum.
But it may soon be Craddock himself in the hot seat. Already, there are those in NATO headquarters in Brussels, as well as in the alliance's military headquarters in Mons, who are speculating about "the last days of Craddock." Hardly anyone believes that the "hard-core Rumsfeld man," as some refer to him, will make it to the end of his term of service this summer. Craddock is seen as a leftover of the George W. Bush administration. It is seen as likely that his defeat in the just-ended dispute among NATO generals will speed his departure.
His successor would likely be Marine General James N. Mattis, currently Supreme Allied Commander Transformation in Norfolk Virginia.
Craddock, for his part, is already prepared for his career to come to an end. In January, he visited a US army course for retiring military personal.
Eds. Note: Due to an error in the editing process, a previous version of this piece identified Franz Josef Jung as Germany's foreign minister. He is, of course, the defense minister. We regret the error.