WASHINGTON — Fifty suspected Afghan drug traffickers believed to have ties to the Taliban have been placed on a Pentagon target list to be captured or killed, reflecting a major shift in American counternarcotics strategy in Afghanistan, according to a congressional study to be released this week.
U.S. military commanders have told Congress that they are convinced the policy is legal under the military's rules of engagement and international law. They also said the move was an essential part of their new plan to disrupt the flow of drug money that is helping finance the Taliban insurgency.
In interviews with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is releasing the report, two American generals serving in Afghanistan said major traffickers with proven links to the insurgency had been put on the "joint integrated prioritized target list." That means they have been given the same target status as insurgent leaders and can be captured or killed at any time.
The generals told Senate staff members that two credible sources and substantial additional evidence were required before a trafficker was placed on the list, and only those providing support to the insurgency would be made targets.
They said there are about 50 major traffickers who contribute money to the Taliban on the list.
"We have a list of 367 'kill or capture' targets, including 50 nexus targets who link drugs and the insurgency," a general told the committee staff. No general was identified in the Senate report obtained by the New York Times.