NY Times: Afghan drug lord had dealings with US government

RAW STORY
Published: Thursday February 1, 2007
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Details are emerging about the involvement of a Taliban-aligned drug lord with the U.S. government, The New York Times will report on its Friday front page.

"In April 2005, federal law enforcement officials announced that they had arrested an Afghan drug lord and Taliban ally named Hajji Bashir Noorzai in New York and charged him with drug smuggling," writes James Risen for the Times. "Now, as Noorzai's case moves toward trial, likely later this year, a fuller story is emerging about the American government's dealings with him."

Risen reports that shortly after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, Noorzai "agreed to cooperate with American officials, who hoped he could lead them to hidden Taliban weapons and leaders," according to Noorzai's lawyer and present and former government officials. After an attempt to renew the "soured" relationship in 2004, Noorzai was a year later "secretly indicted and lured to New York, where he was arrested after nearly two weeks of talks with law enforcement and counterterrorism officials in a hotel."

The article says that in the early years after the invasion, officials "mostly chose to ignore opium production and instead dealt freely with warlords, including drug traffickers who promised information about members in the Taliban and al-Qaida or offered security in the chaotic countryside." But as poppy production has skyrocketed, helping to finance a resurgence of the Taliban that threatens Afghanistan's stability, "the Americans have begun to take some more aggressive steps."

Excerpts from the registration-restricted Times article follow...

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In fighting the war on terrorism, government officials have often accepted tradeoffs in developing relationships with informants with questionable backgrounds who might prove useful. As with Noorzai, it is often not clear whether the benefits outweigh the costs. ... The government's shifting views of Noorzai -- from sought-after ally to notorious global criminal -- parallels its evolving perspective on Afghanistan's heroin trade.

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Administration officials say that they are working to develop a more effective drug strategy in Afghanistan, which now accounts for 82 percent of the world's opium cultivation, according to a U.N. report last September. That could include broader drug eradication programs, alternative crop development and cracking down on drug lords, but any such efforts are complicated by fears that they could lead to greater instability.

Federal prosecutors in New York handling Noorzai's case refused to comment for this article, as did spokesmen for the Drug Enforcement Administration, the CIA and U.S. Central Command.

Noorzai, who has been held in a New York jail for nearly two years, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he smuggled heroin into New York and denies any involvement in drug trafficking. His New York lawyer, Ivan Fisher, argues that the arrest hurt the government's ability to gain information about the escalating Taliban insurgency.

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LINK HERE TO THE FULL REGISTRATION-RESTRICTED NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE.