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Karzai denounces drug raid in Afghanistan

The Afghan president calls a large-scale operation in which the U.S. and Russia took part a violation of sovereignty, even though Afghan police participated in the action near the Pakistan border.

October 31, 2010|By Laura King, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday denounced a large-scale drug raid in which U.S. forces and Russian drug agents took part, calling it a violation of Afghan sovereignty.

The outburst marked the latest in a series of tense confrontations between the Afghan leader and his Western backers.

It also signaled a degree of disarray within the Karzai administration, because Afghan counter-narcotics police took part in the operation, playing what U.S. officials described as the lead role.

On Friday, Russian officials and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration disclosed the raid, which took place earlier in the week in Nangarhar province, near the border with Pakistan. The strike targeted major opium and heroin production facilities, and millions of dollars' worth of drugs were destroyed, they said.

Karzai's office issued a harshly worded statement in response, describing his government as "committed to joint efforts with [the] international community against narcotics" but condemning the raid as a "blatant violation of Afghanistan's sovereignty."

"Any repetition of such acts will prompt necessary reaction by our country," the presidential palace warned.

Karzai's office said the ministries of interior and defense had been ordered to investigate the circumstances of the drug raid and report back to him.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said the raid was led by the Afghan Interior Ministry's Counter-Narcotics Police Sensitive Investigative Unit and the National Interdiction Unit. At times, however, Western officials have described operations in which Afghan forces appeared to play a secondary role as "Afghan-led."

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Zemari Bashary, did not return calls seeking comment.

The incident was reminiscent of a raid carried out in July by Afghan authorities with U.S. backing, which targeted a Karzai aide accused of corruption. The president swiftly ordered his aide freed and moved to limit the powers of the two anti-corruption task forces in question.

In the past, U.S. officials have suggested that the lucrative drug trade in Nangarhar, part of a complex web of organized crime, bears hallmarks of complicity by some local government figures.

Also Saturday, a large band of insurgents tried to overrun a remote U.S. combat outpost in Paktika province, in eastern Afghanistan. The onslaught was beaten back with airstrikes that left dozens of the attackers dead, the Western military said. Five of the defenders were wounded but continued fighting, the NATO force said.

The scale and ferocity of the attack bore a striking similarity to past assaults on other remote eastern outposts that exacted a heavy toll on American forces. In one, in July 2008 in Kunar province, nine U.S. troops were killed; in another, in October 2009 in Nuristan province, eight American troops died.

Insurgents with rocket-propelled grenades and mortars attacked the base in Paktika's Barmal district "from all directions" at about 1:30 a.m., setting off a clash that lasted several hours, Western military officials said. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization force said about 40 attackers were believed to have been killed, but a provincial spokesman, Mukhlis Afghan, put the number as high as 80.

Most of the 100,000 U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan are deployed in the country's south, where military officials say they have successfully driven the Taliban from key districts surrounding the city of Kandahar in recent weeks. At the same time, however, the insurgency has flared in other parts of the country, including the once-quiet north.

laura.king@latimes.com

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