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Commando-Style DEA Squads Fight Cartels Abroad

Squads train local authorities, but sometimes things get ugly
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 7, 2011 7:31 AM CST
Commando-Style DEA Squads Fight Cartels Abroad
Deputy administrator of the US DEA, Michele Leonhart, appears at the XXVII International Drug Enforcement Conference, April 27, 2010 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. AFP PHOTO/ANTONIO SCORZA   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – The war on drugs meets the war on terror: In 2008, George W. Bush started a DEA program called FAST (Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team), meant to investigate Afghanistan drug traffickers linked to the Taliban. The program continued under President Obama, and now includes five military-trained squads of special agents that fight drug cartels in far more places throughout the Western Hemisphere, including Haiti and Honduras. While the US agents can’t make arrests overseas—and some missions are solely focused on training—they can go out on missions with local authorities and may even open fire in certain circumstances, like they reportedly did during a Honduras bust last March that left a Honduran officer wounded and two drug traffickers dead.

Though the program has many potential benefits—the squads can help take down kingpins, interfere with smuggling routes, and disrupt the drug flow to the US—it “won’t permanently stop trafficking unless a country also has capable institutions, which often don’t exist in Central America,” notes one expert. There’s also the issue of sovereignty, which has led some countries to avoid acknowledging the US’ help. A similar Reagan-era DEA operation was widely criticized and shut down in 1994 after five agents died in a Peru plane crash, the New York Times notes. Similar accidents have occurred this time around: In 2009, two FAST agents died in an Afghanistan helicopter crash; just last week, an agent was shot in the head but will likely survive. Click for more details on the program from the Times. (Read more DEA stories.)

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