Afghan drug lord busted

We recently reported that U.S. military forces have been approved to engage in drug enforcement operations in Afghanistan. Now comes this report of DEA agents in New York busting a major opium lord said to be linked to the Taliban resistance:

April 25 (Bloomberg) — Federal agents arrested Haji Bashir Noorzai, an Afghan drug lord with close ties to the Taliban, the country’s former religious rulers, U.S. Attorney David Kelley announced today.

Noorzai was indicted by a grand jury in New York on charges of conspiring to import $50 million worth of heroin from Afghanistan and Pakistan into the U.S. and other countries. Noorzai was arrested in the U.S. by agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration as he was traveling to New York.

“Afghanistan is the world’s largest manufacturer and supplier of heroin, and Noorzai was certainly on the upper rung of that hierarchy,” Kelley said today at a press conference in Manhattan.

Noorzai had an “unholy alliance” with deposed Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, trading drugs and weapons for protection of his operation, Kelley said. Last June President George W. Bush described Noorzai as a “drug kingpin” under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, which targets individuals who pose “a threat to the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States,” Kelley said.

A VOA account quoted John Gilbride, special agent in charge of the DEA’s New York office:

Mr. Gilbride says drug enforcement agents have known of Mr. Noozai’s heroin production and distribution network since at least 1990. “Noorzai controlled the poppies, the poppy fields, the heroin laboratories, as well as the transportation routes. So, it is similar to a cartel, in terms of all aspects, from the beginning to the end, from the growing of the poppies to the heroin hitting the streets of New York City, or any other city in the world, are controlled by the organization,” he said.

Announcing the arrest, U.S. prosecutor David Kelley said Mr. Noorzai had what he described as a “symbiotic relationship” with the Taleban, exchanging weapons and manpower with the group in return for protection. But he stopped short of linking Mr. Noorzai’s drug network with Osama bin Laden.

Somehow we suspect that the U.S. and Afghan authorities alike will be far slower to move against–or even acknowledge–those drug kingpins linked to the Northern Alliance.