Three Drug Enforcement Administration officials were killed when their helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan Monday, USA Today reported.
The DEA agents died with ten soldiers and one civilian in a firefight that broke out as the American soldiers were leaving a raid on poppy fields in the Western part of Afghanistan, The Times of London reported. In addition to the 10 deaths, 14 Afghan service members, 11 U.S. service members and one U.S. civilian were injured in the crash, USA Today reported.
Attorney General Eric Holder released a statement Monday about the deaths of the DEA agents. “While the circumstances of this crash are still being investigated, I want to express my deepest condolences to the families of these heroic agents,” Holder said.
According to the Times of London, the helicopter was shot down among heavy fire during an extraction mission to retrieve soldiers engaged in a midnight raid on the compound of a prominent Afghan drug suggler.
The DEA has been working in Afghanistan to combat the country’s booming opium trade, which funds the fundamentalist Taliban. In 2007, its Special Operations Division was given an almost $9 million boost funding boost to fight the opium trade in the country’s southern and western provinces, ABC News reported.
Afghanistan is the source of 90 percent of the world’s heroin, and much of the farms producing the poppies needed for heroin production are believed to be under control of the Taliban or Al Qaeda, ABC News reported.
The opium trade in Afghanistan is currently based in five provinces in the south, bordering Pakistan, and two provinces in the west, bordering Iran.
The DEA declined to comment on the specifics of the crash.
In addition to the helicopter crash that killed the DEA agents, two American helicopters collided on Monday in southern Afghanistan, killing four. Monday was the deadliest day for American troops in Afghanistan in four years, USA Today said.
The New York Times reported that the U.S. military was “98 percent sure that insurgent activity was not involved.”
UPDATE: The names of the DEA agents were released early Tuesday morning. Tickle the Wire posted a DEA news release identifying the agents killed:
“Special Agent Forrest N. Leamon. SA Leamon became a Special Agent in 2002. He served at the Washington Field Division and in the El Paso Field Division until 2007, when he joined the FAST team in Afghanistan. He lived in Woodbridge, VA and was 37 years old. He is survived by his wife and their unborn child.”
“Special Agent Chad L. Michael. SA Michael graduated from basic training in March 2004. He began his career with DEA in the Miami Field Division, and left there to join the FAST team in Afghanistan in August of this year. He lived in Quantico, VA and was 30 years old.”
“Special Agent Michael E. Weston. SA Weston has been a Special Agent with DEA since 2003. He was assigned to the Richmond, Virginia District Office until joining the Kabul Country Office in August of this year. He lived in Washington, DC and was 37 years old. He is survived by his wife.”
In a statement posted on the DEA Web site, Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart said the DEA’s “extremely tight family” was devastated by the loss of the agents. “No expressions of grief can adequately convey the depth of the collective sorrow that we feel for their loved ones,” Leonhart said.