War On Taliban Shifts To Drug Lords

Afghan drug lord Haji Bagcho is led handcuffed off plane by DEA agents after his predawn landing at Andrews Air Force Base to face federal heroin charges. CBS Exclusive

Handcuffed and surrounded by agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Haji Bagcho landed at Andrews Air Force base outside Washington early this morning, indicted on federal drug charges tied to his alleged financing of the Taliban, reports CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian.

Bagcho's capture marks the latest success in a bold strategy in the war on terror - the use of crime-fighting techniques like undercover sting operations by DEA agents to hunt down major drug traffickers.

The goal is to cut off the half billion dollars a year traffickers pay the Taliban to run their heroin labs and smuggle drugs out of the country.

"When you make major drug seizures in or around Afghanistan, that's denied revenue for the Taliban," said Mike Braun, who recently retired as director of operations for the DEA.

Braun told CBS News that DEA presence on the ground in Afghanistan has surged from just 13 agents a year ago to more than 70 this fall.

"It's the largest overseas expansion that I know of that the agency's ever undertaken," Braun said. "There's got to be" a major policy shift, he added.

"We all think of them as holy warriors, and in fact when you examine their activities at the ground level, they really behave like criminals," said Gretchen Peters, an expert on the Taliban and Afghan drug lords.

Gretchen Peters, author of "Seeds of Terror," says the Taliban "behave like criminals."

Using lessons learned battling drug kingpins in places like Colombia, the DEA - with help from the U.S. military and Afghan police - has quietly captured at least a half dozen of what it calls "high-value targets," slipping them into this country to stand trial under a far-reaching 2005 federal narco-terrorism law.

"These guys are the Sopranos of the opium trade," said CBS News national security consultant Juan Zarate. "If they're greedy, if they're power hungry, if they have vices, law enforcement can exploit that."

Haji Baz Mohammad is one of the five founding fathers of the Taliban. After his capture, he pleaded guilty to importing millions of dollars worth of heroin into the U.S. He's now in federal prison.

Then there's Haji Juma Khan who ran his billion dollar a year drug cartel out of a travel agency in Quetta, Pakistan. Khan lived in a compound nearby - one of 200 homes he is said to own around the world.

Last week, however, after being caught in a DEA trap in Indonesia, Khan was in federal court in Manhattan facing charges he helped finance the Taliban.

"What is important is the fact it sends a clear message," Braun said. "You can be investigated. You can be convicted. And you can be locked up for the rest of your life."

Brought to justice in the one place that remains beyond the control of Afghan drug lords like Haji Bagcho - U.S. federal court. He was arraigned late Wednesday.

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