CHRISTIAN NEWS: SOURCE. By CHARLIE SAVAGE. NY TIMES Published: June 24, 2012. WASHINGTON — A United States Drug Enforcement Administration agent shot a man to death in Honduras during a raid on a smuggling operation early Saturday, a spokesman for the American Embassy in Honduras said Sunday. The man who was killed had been reaching for his weapon, the official said, and the agent fired in self-defense.
The shooting brought further attention to the growing American involvement in counternarcotics operations in Central America. Commando-style squads of D.E.A. agents have been working with local security forces in several countries and have been present at several firefights in Honduras in which people have died in the last 15 months.
The latest episode, however, is the first in which the United States government has said that an American agent, rather than a Honduran police officer, has killed a suspect. The shooting underscored the delicate issues of national sovereignty raised by the growing American participation in the operations.
The episode began early Saturday when a suspected smuggling plane landed at an airstrip south of the village of Brus Laguna, the embassy spokesman, Stephen Posivak, said in a phone interview.
A surveillance aircraft observed about 40 people unloading cargo and taking it to a nearby staging site in the woods. Four State Department helicopters, carrying both Honduran police officers and members of the D.E.A.’s Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team — a commando-style squad commonly referred to as FAST — went to the site and intercepted the shipment. They arrested four people and recovered several weapons and about 360 kilograms of cocaine.
During the operation, Mr. Posivak said, the government agents told a group suspected of smuggling to surrender. Four of the suspects did so and were arrested, but a fifth reached for a holstered weapon. The American agent shot him before he could fire.
“The suspect, instead of surrendering, reached for his firearm,” Mr. Posivak said. “The other suspects surrendered, but this guy went for his gun.
The team stayed on the site for several hours until a Honduran investigative team — including a judge, a prosecutor, and a medical examiner — arrived. The Honduran police later arrested six more people, he said.
Dawn Dearden, a spokeswoman for the D.E.A., confirmed the shooting and said that the D.E.A. agent was allowed to fire under the rules of engagement for such operations that were established by an agreement between the United States and Honduras.
“D.E.A. advisers participating in Honduran-led police operations are governed by strict procedures regarding use of force,” she said. “The agent involved in this incident fired in self-defense, as permitted under D.E.A. rules and those of the host country.
Last month, a similar raid in the nearby village of Ahuas ended in a gunfight on a river in which four people were killed, leading to a dispute over whether they were involved in drug smuggling or were bystanders.
In that shooting, both the American and Honduran governments said that only Honduran police officers fired their weapons. A surveillance video of the incident showed that the gunfight began with a boat ramming a vessel carrying government forces and a seized shipment of cocaine.
A United States official said there was another joint mission in Honduras on June 13, although it did not involve gunfire. In that mission, an aircraft carrying drugs crashed in the Olancho area. Americans had been tracking the plane but did not shoot or force it down, the official said.
State Department helicopters carrying both Honduran police officers and D.E.A. agents went to the crash site, where they found the remains of two pilots and 41 kilograms of cocaine — the rest of the shipment having been burned in the crash, the official said.
The FAST squads receive military training and are led by a former Navy SEALs member. They work with specially vetted security units in host countries that they accompany on operations.
The FAST squads were developed for use in investigating Taliban-linked narcotics traffickers in Afghanistan, but over the past few years the United States has begun deploying them to smaller nations in the Western Hemisphere beset by drug cartels.
The first known gunfight in which FAST members were present was in Honduras in March 2011. Two suspected drug traffickers were killed and a Honduran police agent was injured.
This year, the frequency of such missions increased after the United States military built three “forward operating bases” in isolated parts of Honduras, increasing the opportunity to reach the sites quickly and intercept the drugs.
Honduras, FAST, D.E.A., Ahuas, State Department, drug smuggling, drug traffic, counter-narcotics
FAST Operations in Honduras being questioned