Karzai condemns Russian involvement in Afghan drug bust

By Joshua Partlow Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, October 30, 2010; 7:41 PM

KABUL - The inclusion of a small number of Russian anti-narcotics agents in a large drug raid here has touched a raw nerve among Afghan government officials, prompting President Hamid Karzai to condemn NATO for the operation and demand an investigation.

The seizure of $55.9 million worth of heroin - more than 2,000 pounds - and the discovery of four clandestine drug-producing labs in the eastern province of Nangahar was described by U.S. officials as a major success and a sign of international cooperation in the fight against narcotics. It was the first time Americans and Afghans had teamed with Russians on a military operation.

But senior Afghan officials, apparently unaware of the Russians' participation, reacted angrily to news reports of the raid.

"Whenever they want to take [the Russians], we should be aware of it," Interior Minister Besmillah Khan Mohammady said Saturday before a news conference on the matter in Kabul.

Karzai called the operation a violation of sovereignty, saying that "no institution has the right to conduct any such military operation inside our territory without the agreement of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan."

The prospect of Russian participation in NATO military actions recalled the painful decade-long history of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, which ended in 1989.

In this Cold War battleground, the U.S. government armed and funded the Afghan mujaheddin guerrillas against the Soviets. Many of the mujahheddin commanders play prominent roles in Afghan politics today. The lore of their resistance to the Soviet superpower remains central to Afghan identity and also factors into the Taliban's rhetoric in the current war against the United States and its allies.

"Operation Tar Pit" was conducted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, along with U.S. troops, Afghan counter-narcotics police and the Russian anti-drug agents, according to a DEA statement Friday. In addition to the heroin, the team found more than 300 pounds of opium and drugmaking chemicals.

At the news conference, Baz Mohammad Amadi, the deputy head of counter-narcotics in the Afghan Interior Ministry, said that no Russian military personnel were involved in the raid and that only two Russian anti-narcotics experts accompanied the other forces as observers. Other news reports said four Russians took part.

Because foreigners' "faces are similar," he said, "the Afghans didn't know the Russians were participating."

To U.S. and Russian officials, the operation signaled new cooperation and progress in the drug war. Russia's drug czar, Victor Ivanov, announced the raid in Moscow on Friday alongside Eric Rubin, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy. Moscow officials have long argued that NATO is not doing enough to combat the thriving drug trade in Afghanistan, which sends heroin and other drugs into Russia.

"The nearly $60 million worth of heroin seized in Afghanistan will never find its way to vulnerable communities around the world," the DEA's acting administrator, Michele M. Leonhart, said in a statement.

Special correspondent Javed Hamdard contributed to this report.

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