TEGUCIGALPA — A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent who killed a suspected drug trafficker during a raid in a remote region of Honduras was part of an aggressive new enforcement strategy that has sharply increased the interception of drug flights.
The mission, called Operation Anvil, is run with six U.S. State Department helicopters, as well as a special team of DEA agents who work with Honduran police to move more quickly and pursue suspicious flights, according to a U.S. official in Honduras who could not be named for security reasons.
In little more than two months since the operation started, it has intercepted four flights. That compares to only seven from mid-2010 to the end of 2011 - less than one every two months.
The U.S. official said about 100 flights of suspicious origin come into Honduras every year.
With the new operation, Honduran and U.S. drug agents follow every flight they detect of unknown origin and work with non-U.S. contract pilots who don’t have the restrictive rules of engagement that the U.S. military do.
The area of Burs Laguna, where the DEA says an agent shot a drug suspect as he was reaching for his gun Saturday, is part of the remote Mosquito region that is dotted with clandestine airstrips and a vast network of rivers for carrying drugs to the coast.
Saturday’s incident marked the first time that a DEA agent has killed someone in Central America since the agency began deploying specially trained agents several years ago to accompany local law enforcement personnel on all types of drug raids, DEA spokeswoman Dawn Deaden said.
A May 11 raid by Honduran police with DEA advisers, also under Operation Anvil, left four people dead and four others wounded. Locals said they were innocent civilians traveling the river at night. Honduran and DEA officials have said people on the boat fired first and the lawmen were acting in self-defense.
The DEA said none of its agents fired their guns in that incident.
Operation Anvil also netted cocaine shipments May 6 in the Mosquito and June 13 in Olancho state, totaling more three quarters of a ton of cocaine in about two months.
But the aggressive tactics have come under fire from human rights groups and some political interests in Washington, especially since the May 11 attack.
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