Afghan leader decries Russian role in NATO raid on four drug labs
KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s president said yesterday that he had not been informed in advance of Russian participation in a NATO-led drug raid that netted $56 million worth of heroin and morphine, and his administration demanded a formal apology from the alliance.
Hamid Karzai’s complaint was the latest evidence of his strained relationship with the US-led coalition. It also underscored lingering sensitivities over Russian involvement in Afghanistan, which was invaded by the former Soviet Union in 1979.
Russian counter-narcotics agents teamed up with US and Afghan forces Thursday to seize four drug labs in an unprecedented joint raid in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, officials said. The action came less than a week after Russia’s antinarcotics chief accused the United States of failing to dismantle such labs and slow down the flow of heroin into Russia.
The level of cooperation between US and Russian forces was significant and suggested an improvement in relations between the former Cold War foes, two decades after US-financed Afghan militias chased the Soviet military out of the country.
But it irked Karzai. The Afghan president stressed Afghanistan and Russia also have friendly relations but said no country should carry out military operations on Afghan soil without permission.
Moscow’s anti-drugs chief, Viktor Ivanov, confirmed Friday that Russia had provided coordinates for the raid and had two agents involved, but a Kremlin official downplayed Russia’s participation following Karzai’s criticism.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said, “We were in favor of the operation being conducted, but technically, we did not participate in it.’’ He would not comment on why Ivanov and the US contended that it was a joint operation. Some observers suggested officials may have overstated Russia’s involvement to boost ties with Washington.
Karzai said the raid breached Afghanistan’s sovereignty and international law and ordered the interior and defense ministries to investigate the issue.
“While Afghanistan remains committed to its joint efforts with [the] international community against narcotics, it also makes it clear that no organization or institution shall have the right to carry out such a military operation without prior authorization and consent of the government of Afghanistan,’’ his office said in a statement.
While Afghan forces were involved in the raid, Karzai’s national security adviser, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, insisted that NATO had not asked for permission to bring the Russians along. He said NATO had verbally apologized but Afghanistan wanted a formal declaration.
“We want a public apology,’’ said Spanta, a former foreign minister. “Friendship does not allow a friend to do whatever he pleases in the house of the host.’’
American agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration and NATO also participated in the raid. US Embassy spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said that three branches of Afghan law enforcement were also present.
The operation followed an interview Ivanov had given to The Associated Press a week earlier complaining that US officials were not acting on intelligence he had provided them on the locations of Afghan drug labs.