British Special Forces are conducting covert operations against drug smugglers in southern Afghanistan for the first time.
The operations represent a shift from the British military’s long-held opposition to direct involvement in Afghanistan’s drugs war. British Special Forces in Helmand province had previously been limited to targeting members of the Taliban leadership.
The operations are being conducted at night with members of Battalion 333, a secretive unit from the elite Afghan counter-narcotics police.
Nato commanders have long been resistant to taking a direct role in the drugs war, arguing that it would undermine the central plank of the alliance’s counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan: the need to win the support of the Afghan populace.
However, this position has faced increasing pressure from Afghan and Western counter-narcotics officials as well as the United Nations, all of whom argue that the interests of the Taliban insurgency and narcotics criminals are inextricably entwined in Helmand.
The dangers in the new British strategy have already been highlighted by the killing of an alleged drug smuggler and his six-year-old son in Helmand last week in an operation believed to have been undertaken by the Special Boat Service.
The incident was not reported by the Ministry of Defence.
The deaths occurred in Nad Ali, one of the few areas of relative government support in the province, and led to widespread protests and anger against British forces.
The Daily Telegraph interviewed members of the man’s family and local community elders as they waited to lodge a formal complaint with Gen Mohammad Hussein Andiwal, the Helmand police chief. “All people of Nad Ali hate the British because of this cruel act,” shouted Abdul Ahad Helmandwal, the leader of the tribal delegation, which demanded that the British soldier they blamed for the death be tried in an Afghan court.
They named the dead as Noor Ali, a farmer, and his son Juma Khan, six. Around 9lb of opium was in their house, neighbours said – a relatively small quantity by local standards.
The man’s eldest son, Hoday Nazar, 10, described how British soldiers smashed into their house before dawn.
“They blew up the front door. They were yelling. They had torches on the end of their guns. My father was shouting tujeman (translator). We couldn’t understand them. They shot him and he fell to the ground. When my brother sat up in the bed, they shot him too.”
Col Simon Millar, a spokesman for the British military in Helmand, said: “An operation took place involving UK forces against known narcotics individuals. The man was told to put his hands up in Dari, Pashto and English.
“He did not and made a movement for what was believed to be a gun. He was shot twice and one bullet went through his body and hit a child. We do not target innocent civilians, we regret taking any life and recompense has been paid.”
The opium harvest this year is expected to be approximately the same as last year’s record crop. Afghanistan produces more than 90 per cent of the heroin consumed on British streets. Western officials estimate that the Taliban were
able to finance the insurgency by about Â£25 million last year through their activities connected with the illegal drugs trade.
This was through a combination of donations by drug smugglers, taxation of opium farmers, control of the movement of drugs along smuggling routes, and through control of pre-cursor chemicals used for the refinement of opium into heroin.front line