The United States has been secretly deploying Drug Enforcement Administration commando squads across Latin America and the Caribbean in recent years, The New York Times revealed on Monday. The five commando units have reportedly been used in Haiti, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Belize.
The DEA commando program began under President George W. Bush, supposedly as part of the “war on terror,” and has been continued under the Obama Administration. But according to the New York Times article by Charlie Savage
, the Administration has expanded the operations “far beyond the war zone.”
In what is “definitely an escalation of the U.S. involvement in the region,” reports Juan Carlos Hidalgo of [email protected],
the Obama Administration has deployed these commandos 15 times in Central America and the Caribbean.
As pointed out by the Times, the deployment of DEA squads in these regions is “blurring the line between law enforcement and military activities, fusing elements of the ‘war on drugs’ with the ‘war on terrorism.’
“So much for calling an end to ‘the war on drugs,’ ” wrote Hidalgo. “If anything, this development shows that President Obama is an enthusiastic drug warrior.”
The program, known by its acronym FAST (Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team), was originally created to investigate Taliban-linked drug traffickers in Afghanistan, reports Agence France-Presse
While the U.S. agents can’t make arrests overseas, they do go out on missions with local authorities and may even open fire in certain circumstances, like they reportedly did last March during a bust in Honduras which left a Honduran officer wounded and two alleged drug traffickers dead, reports Evann Gastaldo at Newser.
The squads were described as “teams of DEA Special Agents and Intelligence Research Specialists” that “will provide guidance and conduct bilateral investigations to identify and dismantle illicit drug trafficking and money laundering organizations” in 2005 testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on International Relations by DEA Chief of Operations Michael A. Braun, reports Honduras Weekly
“The DEA is working shoulder-to-shoulder in harm’s way with host-nation counterparts,” said Braun, a former head of operations for the drug agency who helped design the program.
Each of the five squads has 10 agents. Many are military veterans, and the section is overseen by a former member of the Navy SEALs, Richard Dobrich. The Pentagon has provided most of their equipment and training, and they routinely use military aircraft on their missions.
The American teams could help arrest kingpins, seize drug and weapon stockpiles, disrupt smuggling routes and “professionalize” security forces in small countries through which smugglers pass drugs headed for the U.S., according to Bruce Bagley, a University of Miami professor specializing in Latin America and counter-narcotics efforts.
But such operations “could lead to a nationalist backlash in the countries involved,” Bagley admitted. “If an American is killed, the administration and the DEA could get mired in Congressional oversight hearings.
“Taking out kingpins could fragment the organization and lead to more violence,” Bagley said. “And it won’t permanently stop trafficking unless a country also has capable institutions.”