Afghan drug barons face extradition to US courts

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Afghan drug barons could stand trial in American courts before the end of next year as part of a Washington-driven offensive against the booming drugs trade. The move will be seen as a humiliation for British-led efforts over the past year to stop Afghanistan's opium, the source of 95 per cent of the heroin on UK streets.

Afghan drug barons could stand trial in American courts before the end of next year as part of a Washington-driven offensive against the booming drugs trade. The move will be seen as a humiliation for British-led efforts over the past year to stop Afghanistan's opium, the source of 95 per cent of the heroin on UK streets.

A UN report expected tomorrow will show the area harvested has increased by 64 per cent in the past 12 months. British intelligence operatives are expected to be involved in the new campaign against the worst drug barons, expected to start within weeks, backed by the US military.

President Hamid Karzai, the winner of last month's election, has promised a crackdown on opium production. His Western backers are understood to be applying pressure to exclude corrupt figures from his new cabinet and to sack provincial governors involved in the trade.

British officials have complained that little can be done while Afghanistan lacks prisons and has no secure courts or witness protection programmes. In the past three years, Afghan police have not arrested a single major player.

The American response will be to extradite Afghans who can be linked to heroin smuggled into the United States.

A Western official in Kabul said: "We think this will really scare these guys. They know that if they end up in an American court their money and connections will be of no help to them. And they will not like the idea of spending 15 to 20 years in an American penitentiary. It takes a while to organise an extradition, but I believe we could see Afghans in American courts before the end of next year."

Two powerful Afghans, each with a fortune estimated at more than $100m (£55m), are expected to be targeted first. Seven or eight main figures are thought to run the trade, many of them household names in Afghanistan. Major-General Sayed Kamal Sadaat, the director general of the Ministry of Interior's counter-narcotics division, has promised to name the prime suspects.

American investigators from the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will also aid Afghan police. Leading figures in the drugs trade are believed to have been approached by US agencies and warned to retire or face arrest.

The decision to take a more aggressive role was made in Washington last spring. The US is also concerned about drugs money being used to fund terrorism, and sees British efforts as a failure.

The opium trade is estimated to have generated nearly $30bn worldwide last year, about $3bn of which stays within Afghanistan and is equivalent to about half of the country's annual gross domestic product. Under the Taliban, few poppy fields were cultivated after the fundamentalists decreed drug production unIslamic.

In the past year, the elite, British-trained Force 333 has begun destroying heroin laboratories, sometimes getting into gunfights with gangs.

American bombing raids have had to be called in to support them at least once.The promised new offensive against drug dealers is expected to make use of some of the sophisticated Western intelligence-gathering used with devastating effect against the Taliban and al-Qa'ida.

US officials are thought to be opposed to American combat troops becoming directly involved. But some officials believe the drug barons will not put up a serious fight.

Comments