Page last updated at 13:26 GMT, Monday, 10 August 2009 14:26 UK

US to target 'Afghan drug lords'

A man in an opium poppy field in Helmand. File photo
Opium trafficking provides the Taliban with much of its income

The US has put 50 Afghans suspected to be drug traffickers with Taliban links on a list of people to be "captured or killed", the New York Times reports.

Two American generals have told the US Congress that the policy is legal under the military's rules of engagement and international law, the paper says.

In a report, yet to be released, it was described as a key strategy to disrupt the flow of drug money to the Taliban.

The move is a major shift in America's counter-narcotics drive in Afghanistan.

In interviews with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is due to release the report later this week, two American generals serving in Afghanistan said that major traffickers with proven links to the insurgency have been put on the "joint integrated prioritised target list", the New York Times reported.

That means they have been given the same target status as insurgent leaders, and can be captured or killed at any time.

It quoted one of the generals as telling the committee: "We have a list of 367 'kill or capture' targets, including 50 nexus targets who link drugs and the insurgency."

The generals were not identified in the Senate report, the paper said.

Poppy destruction

For many years, US policy in Afghanistan focused on destroying poppy crops.

But in March Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to the region, said that US efforts to eradicate opium poppy crops in Afghanistan had been "wasteful and ineffective".

He said efforts to eradicate poppy cultivation had failed to make an impact on the Taliban insurgents' ability to raise money from the drugs trade.

The BBC's Jill McGivering says that the proposal is the latest evidence that the Obama administration wants to try a new approach.

The strategy of eradicating poppy crops has been difficult partly because many of the key growing areas are under Taliban control, our correspondent says.

The new willingness to intervene is also recognition of the corrosive effect the drugs trade is having on the country.

As well as funding the Taliban, it is also fuelling organised crime and corruption, our correspondent says.

The southern Afghan province of Helmand is the main producer of Afghan opium, which accounts for more than 90% of the global supply.

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