NATO commander: Afghanistan drug raids imminent
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer Lolita C. Baldor, Associated Press Writer
MUNICH – In an effort to strike at a key income source for Taliban militants, the top NATO commander said Sunday that operations to attack drug lords and labs in Afghanistan will begin within the "next several days."
Gen. John Craddock, who also heads the U.S. European Command, also said that the U.S. and its allies are making progress in their efforts to fill the need for more troops, equipment and intelligence gathering in Afghanistan. He, however, would not disclose any specific commitments he got this weekend as world leaders met at a security conference here.
NATO defense ministers, during a meeting last fall in Hungary, authorized troops in Afghanistan to launch the drug attacks, but there had been questions about whether allies would be willing to follow through. Money from Afghanistan's booming illicit drug trade has been blamed for pumping up to $100 million a year into the coffers of resurgent Taliban fighters.
"Activities and actions will occur soon that will be helpful," Craddock told reporters. "We've got to get started."
The U.S. delegation to the security conference, led by Vice President Joe Biden, was expected to talk to allies this weekend about the ongoing need for support in Afghanistan. Craddock said he still needs about 5,000 NATO troops to bolster Afghan forces during the coming elections, and he is confident he will get them from other NATO nations.
At the same time, he said he still has a critical need for trainers that he has yet to fill, and the expected announcement about a forthcoming build-up in U.S. forces has been delayed as the Pentagon juggles the numbers in the face of an ongoing review by the new Obama administration.
Allies, said Craddock, "expected they would be asked to step up and do more. Now it's a matter of political will."
Leaders have speculated that good will surrounding the inauguration of President Barack Obama would generate greater efforts by NATO allies to send additional resources to Afghanistan. Pentagon officials have said they expect to send as many as 30,000 more troops there, including several brigades in the coming months.