War on Drugs

D.E.A. "Commando" Squads Meld Drug War with War on Terror


Squads of military-trained agents deployed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration are muddling the war on terror in Central Asia with the drug war in Central America.

On Monday, The New York Times reported:

The D.E.A. now has five commando-style squads it has been quietly deploying for the past several years to Western Hemisphere nations—including Haiti, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Belize—that are battling drug cartels, according to documents and interviews with law enforcement officials.

The program—called FAST, for Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team—was created during the George W. Bush administration to investigate Taliban-linked drug traffickers in Afghanistan. Beginning in 2008 and continuing under President Obama, it has expanded far beyond the war zone.

In Honduras last March, a training mission including one of the D.E.A. squads and Honduran police was interrupted "when they received word that a suspicious plane from Venezuela was being tracked to a clandestine landing strip nearby." After a 20 minute firefight during which a Honduran officer was wounded and two drug traffickers were killed, the law enforcement officials seized the plane's cocaine and withdrew from the skirmish.

The D.E.A. squads' expansion to the Western Hemisphere is the latest evidence of the war on terror seeping into the drug war. Mike Riggs recently reported on some House Republicans' wishes to designate Mexican drug cartels as "Foreign Terrorist Organizations," a move that would allow U.S. law enforcement officials to pursue cartels more aggressively but would also probably damage U.S.-Mexico relations.

Eric Olson of the Woodrow Wilson International Center's Mexico Institute gave Riggs his thoughts on the subject:

"The government of Mexico certainly does not describe the organizations as terrorist organizations. They're not like Al Qaeda. They're not motivated by an ideology or a religion, they don't have an intention of taking over the government and running the country. They're not enemies attempting to tear down the United States. They wreak terror on civilians, there's no question about that. But they're not organized in the same fashion."

Riggs also noted that State Department official William Brownfield has testified that cartels' activities in Mexico are different from activities in "other parts of the world that we describe as having insurgencies." Brownfield added that "if we cannot reach basic agreement with the government of Mexico, our efforts will probably not succeed. It has to be cooperative, they have to agree."

Read Riggs' related coverage on why waging the war on drugs in Latin America is a gold mine for contractors and a waste for taxpayers.