The United States has placed 50 suspected Afghan drug traffickers with ties to the Taliban on a Pentagon target list to be captured or killed, The New York Times reported on Monday, citing a Congressional report to be released this week.
Major drugs traffickers with proven links to the Taliban have been given the same target status as insurgent leaders, and can be captured or killed at any time, two U.S. generals serving in Afghanistan said in interviews with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is releasing the report.
The New York Times said the generals told Senate staff members that there are about 50 major traffickers who contribute money to the Taliban on the list.
The pursuit of Afghan drug lords reflects a major shift in U.S. policy and is likely to raise legal concerns from some NATO countries that have troops in Afghanistan, the newspaper said.
U.S. military commanders have told Congress they are convinced that the policy is legal under the military's rules of engagement and international law, the report said.
They also said the move is an essential part of a new plan to disrupt the flow of drug money that is helping finance the Taliban insurgency, the Times reported.
Several people suspected of ties to drug trafficking have already been captured and others have been killed by the U.S. military since the policy went into effect earlier this year, the Times reported, citing a senior military official with direct knowledge of the matter.
Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Ryder, would not comment on the Senate report nor directly address the existence of the target list, the newspaper said.
However Ryder said it was "important to clarify that we are targeting terrorists with links to the drug trade, rather than targeting drug traffickers with links to terrorism."