DEA Agents Target Afghanistan's 'Narco-Insurgency'

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AFGHANISTAN -- The Drug Enforcement Administration started fighting the illegal drug trade in 1973. Its main focus: keeping drugs out of the U.S.

However, in recent years, the agency has expanded its mission to tracking drugs to their source - a strategy which puts them at the center of the War on Terror.

DEA FAST Teams

Five years ago, fewer than a dozen DEA agents were responsible for covering all of Afghanistan.  Today, there are nearly 100 agents.  That's because the fight there is against a narco-insurgency, meaning the Taliban receive a large part of their funding from illegal drug activity.

Chuck Holton recently returned from Afghanistan.  Click play for his report.  Also, watch Holton's comments on the situation in Afghanistan here.

As the U.S. military works to defeat the enemy and minimize collateral damage, the DEA is using its Foreign Deployed Assistance and Support, or FAST, teams to help hunt for Taliban drug kingpins.

"We do basically all the types of operations we would do back home," said one DEA official, who spoke with CBN News on condition of anonymity for security reasons. "Whether a search warrant, an arrest warrant, seizure of drugs, any type of counternarcotics law enforcement, we train our Afghan counterparts in those same kind of missions.

"We are not military. We are law enforcement," he explained. "So what we do is when we come over to Afghanistan - what gives us the ability to function and work in this country -- is going along with our Afghan counterparts."

"We are there to advise and mentor and train them in counternarcotics law and procedures," he said. "And we're really starting to see some good effects come from that."

Early Morning Raid

CBN News traveled along with one of the DEA FAST teams on an early morning raid near Kandahar along with Navy SEALS and members of the Afghan National Army. The target: an Afghan drug runner who supports the insurgency with profits from illegal narcotics.

A search of the compound yielded drugs and bomb making materials, which were gathered up and destroyed.

The men detained on site were taken to face trial before an Afghan tribunal. The average sentence for those convicted is 20 years in prison.

Biggest Challenge: The Farmers

With this year's poppy crop ready to be harvested, the biggest challenge is attacking the drug network without alienating the local farmers, who get much of their income from opium. To accomplish this, the DEA is working with the military and other government agencies to offer alternative crops to the farmers.

The strategy, however, is being met with skepticism, even by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has blasted the U.S. and its allies for being too involved in Afghanistan's political process.

While the military mission in Afghanistan may begin to wind down in the next 16 months, DEA Administrator Michelle Leonhart says her agency is in this for the long haul.

"This is the first time that DEA has been active in a war zone, but we take the lessons that we learned in Colombia - especially working with our foreign counterparts," Leonhart told CBN News.

"We don't get bogged down with the question of how long we're going to be there," she said. "Someone has to go after the biggest and the baddest, someone has to put these traffickers in jail, someone has to stop that flow of terrorist financing - and it'll be the DEA."

CBN News War Correspondent Chuck Holton will appear on Tuesday's edition of The 700 Club to share more about the DEA's mission in Afghanistan. Click play to watch the interview..

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Chuck Holton

CBN News Reporter

Chuck Holton has been producing high-octane features and news for CBN since 2003. He has freelance reported from nearly all of the world's hot spots, including Afghanistan, Burma, Lebanon, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.