KABUL (AP) — A U.S. military helicopter crashed Monday while returning from the scene of a firefight with suspected Taliban drug traffickers in western Afghanistan, killing 10 Americans including three DEA agents in a not-so-noticed war within a war.
U.S. military officials insisted neither crash was believed a result of hostile fire, although the Taliban claimed they shot down a U.S. helicopter in the western province of Badghis. The U.S. did not say where in western Afghanistan its helicopter went down, and no other aircraft were reported missing.
The casualties marked the Drug Enforcement Administration's first deaths since it began operations here in 2005. Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium — the raw ingredient in heroin — and the illicit drug trade is a major source of funding for insurgent groups.
The U.S. has decided to target production and distribution networks after programs to destroy poppy fields did little except turn farmers against the American-led NATO mission.
In the past year, the DEA has launched an ambitious plan to increase its personnel in Afghanistan from about a dozen to nearly 80, greatly expanding its role.
The crash came less than a week after a U.N. report found that the drug trade is enabling the Taliban to make more money now than when they ruled Afghanistan before the U.S. invasion in 2001. The DEA sent more agents to Afghanistan this year to take part in military operations against insurgents who use drug smuggling to raise funds for their war against NATO and its Afghan allies.
The Associated Press