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NATO orders leak probe after Afghan drug report

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The NATO secretary-general has ordered an investigation after a German magazine published a purported classified document from the alliance’s top commander calling for the targeting of all Afghan drug traffickers.

A member of an anti-narcotics unit of the Afghan National police force displays confiscated hashish at their headquarters in Feyzabad, north of Kabul, September 23, 2008. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

The online version of Der Spiegel magazine said it had obtained a classified document in which U.S. General John Craddock said all drug traffickers could be attacked, whether or not evidence connected them to the Taliban insurgency.

It said the “guidance” was sent to General Egon Ramms, head of the NATO command at Brunssum in the Netherlands, and the commander of the NATO-led foreign force in Afghanistan General David McKiernan, and neither wanted to follow it.

In the article, headlined “NATO High Commander Issues Illegitimate Order to Kill,” Der Spiegel quoted a letter from McKiernan’s Kabul official as saying the move would seriously undermine NATO attempts to reduce civilian casualties.

NATO spokesman James Appathurai confirmed Thursday a discussion was under way on how to implement a decision by NATO ministers in Budapest last year to launch direct attacks on the Afghan drugs trade, but said no final decision had been taken.

He declined to comment on the content of any communications between NATO generals, but added in reference to NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer:

“The secretary-general considers it unacceptable that confidential documents have been leaked; he has called for an immediate investigation, which will be pursued vigorously.”

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In Budapest, ministers agreed NATO forces, together with Afghan forces, could launch attacks on drug traffickers supporting the insurgency. But they left it up to individual allies whether to take part in such attacks.

“Nothing will go against the direction given by ministers and nothing is done within this alliance which doesn’t fully comply with national and international law,” Appathurai said.

A spokesman for Craddock, Colonel Derik Crotts, added: “No one has asked or directed anyone to do anything illegal.”

Der Spiegel said engagement rules for U.S. forces issued in December allowed them to bomb drug labs provided it had been estimated the operations would not kill more than 10 civilians.

Civilian casualties have eroded public support for the Afghan government and foreign troops backing it, and caused a rift between President Hamid Karzai and his Western allies.

An Afghan rights body has issued figures based on U.N. estimates saying nearly 700 civilians were killed in operations by foreign and government forces in the year to October.

Wednesday NATO said it killed 97 civilians in operations last year and blamed insurgents for 10 times that number.