Image: An Afghan man collects resin from poppies in an opium poppy field
AP
An Afghan man collects resin from poppies in an opium poppy field in Panjwai district of Kandahar province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan on May 21.
updated 10/6/2008 6:44:02 PM ET 2008-10-06T22:44:02

NATO's top commander charged Monday that a handful of nations were preventing him from sending troops against heroin producers and traffickers in Afghanistan because they worry that could provoke a backlash against allied troops.

The Afghan police force is responsible for counternarcotics, but U.S. Gen. John Craddock said it is overwhelmed by the scale of the problem and needs help.

Craddock said he would try to persuade doubters at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Budapest, Hungary, later this week.

The U.S. is backing his calls for a greater NATO efforts against narcotics. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates made the point at a meeting with his alliance counterparts on London last month. Gates is scheduled to attend the Budapest meeting Thursday and Friday.

"The current counternarcotics effort is ineffective," Craddock told a conference of defense experts "NATO has the ability within current means and capabilities in theater to make a tremendous impact."

"They fear that this will make the Taliban more mad at us," he added in a reference to the countries resisting his plan. "Give me a break. What are these suicide attacks and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) all about? How could it get any worse?"

$100 million a year?
Craddock did not name the nations opposing his plans. But diplomats at NATO headquarters said Germany, Italy and Spain were among those have expressed wariness, effectively blocking the initiative because such changes require consensus.

"We are not there yet. We still have a handful of nations, and maybe I am a bit harsh here, who have not listened to the argument," Craddock said.

The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. Diplomats from the countries concerned did not comment publicly on the issue Monday.

NATO's supreme operational commander said the insurgents were gaining up to $100 million a year from the drugs trade, allowing them to fund the recent increase in violence.

He insisted NATO had no plans to eradicate the crops of poor farmers growing opium poppies, but wanted instead to target the heroin laboratories and trafficking networks behind Afghanistan's $4 billion-a-year narcotics business.

Craddock said the NATO force could take on the narcotics traffickers without requiring reinforcements.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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