|Afghan Air Force L-39 Albatross jets: drug smugglers?|
The United States is looking into claims that some members of the Afghan Air Force (AAF), which was established largely with American funds, have used their airplanes to transport drugs, a U.S. military spokesman said on Thursday.
Investigators are trying to determine whether the drug-running allegations, first reported in the Wall Street Journal, are linked to the shooting deaths last year of eight U.S. Air Force officers at the airport in the Afghan capital city of Kabul, reports CNN.
In that April 2011 incident, an Afghan military pilot opened fire on NATO troops, killing eight members of the U.S. military and one civilian American contractor. It was the deadliest such incident since the war began in 2001.
|AAF Col. Ahmed Gul last year killed nine Americans who were involved in an early phase of the investigation|
The Journal reports that the attacker, an AAF colonel, is accused of being involved in the illegal drug activities. Most of the victims were involved in an early phase of the investigation, which is looking into allegations of both drug running and gun smuggling all over Afghanistan.
The gunman, identified as Col. Ahmed Gul, a cargo and passenger coordinator for the AAF with reported financial and mental problems, later turned his weapon on himself, reports Lee Ferran at ABC News.
In the Air Force report, two witnesses said they believed the AAF to be involved in “nefarious” activities where Afghan officials could make quick cash by ferrying people or cargo around the country, often with little or no screening.
“There is a distinct lack of transparency in the way the Afghan Ministry of Defense [and the]AAF like to schedule and fly their missions,” said one witness, identified only as a lieutenant colonel. “The Afghans either don’t know or don’t want to tell us who or what they’re flying around the country.
“All this looks very suspicious to the NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan mentors who have been in country for more than a few months,” the lieutenant colonel said.
|Shah Marai/National Journal|
|An Afghan man smokes heroin in the city of Kerat|
Witnesses said the AAF officers would be paid directly to usher top Afghan officials around at the last minute.
In its report, the Wall Street Journal quoted U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Bolger as saying the current allegations also include the transport of narcotics and weapons “for the use of private groups” within Afghanistan.
Two probes of the AAF are underway, one led by the U.S. military coalition and another by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), officials said, reports Maria Abi-Habib of the Wall Street Journal.
A NATO spokesman said the investigation is still “very preliminary,” reports Voice of America.
The U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force said on Thursday that it is working with its Afghan partners to “arrest and reverse criminal penetration in the [Afghan National Security Forces] and to ensure security ministries and their forces become sufficiently resistant to and insulated from criminal network interference and subversion.”
The statement noted that in the past year, 50 “criminal actors” had been discovered in the security forces.
An AAF spokesman, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, said the Ministry of Defense was unaware of the investigations. He denied the allegations.
Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world’s opium, from which heroin is made. As much as 15 percent of Afghanistan’s Gross Domestic Product comes from the illegal drug trade, according to the United Nations.