KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. authorities are looking into allegations that some Afghan Air Force (AAF) officials have been using aircraft to transport narcotics and illegal weapons across the country, a U.S. official said on Thursday.
“At this point allegations are being examined,” said Lt. Col. Tim Stauffer, spokesman for the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, which is setting up and financing Afghan security forces, including the Air Force.
“Authorities are trying to determine whether the allegations warrant a full investigation.”
The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the allegations, said the U.S. military is also looking into whether the alleged transporting of illegal drugs and weapons is connected to an April incident in which an AAF colonel killed eight U.S. Air Force officers at Kabul Airport.
A U.S. Air Force report about the deaths quoted American officials as saying that the killer was likely involved in moving illegal cargo, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Most of the victims had been taking part in an inquiry into the misuse of AAF aircraft, the newspaper said.
The allegations of drug running come from “credible” Afghan officers inside and outside the AAF and coalition personnel working within the AAF, it added.
An Afghan defense ministry official would not comment on the issue. But he did say that Afghanistan had come under pressure from the West to remove a senior AAF official over corruption allegations.
“They could not provide credible evidence,” he told Reuters.
Major General Abdul Wahab Wardak, the AAF commander, told Reuters the drug-running allegations were “baseless and they must be proven”. “We never do such things,” he added.
The allegations are likely to raise further doubts over the ability of Afghan forces to secure the country before foreign combat troops withdraw at the end of 2014.
The AAF was set up mostly with U.S. funds.
The United States poured in a record amount, near $12 billion between October 2010 and September 2011, to train and equip Afghanistan’s security forces. Almost as much cash, some $11 billion, is planned for the year through September 2012.
Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world’s opium and the drug trade is often blamed by Western officials for hindering economic development.
The poppy economy in Afghanistan, which provides an income for insurgents in the country blighted by decades of war, has grown significantly in 2011 with soaring prices and expanded cultivation, a U.N. report said late last year.
Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Mirwais Harooni; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani