The DEA FAST are an elite tactical unit which focuses exclusively on counter-narcotics (CN) operations. There are only five of these teams within the administration with one permanently stationed in Afghanistan. They are there to conduct CN and counterterrorist missions as Afghanistan is the world’s most prolific narcotics production and trafficking countries.

Although they are designated as law enforcement officers, they are trained like every other special operations unit via the U.S. Special Operations Command in the use of advanced weapons, strategies, and technologies. They conduct operations throughout the world’s most prolific narcotics production regions, and they also enjoy an open-ended legal framework which allows them to target and remove potential threats to the United States of America.

The DEA website details how FAST jobs require their operatives to master: covert infiltration of hostile zones, long distance marksmanship, interrogation and intelligence gathering, immediate battlefield decision-making, work seamlessly within a diverse tactical unit, operate communications equipment and vehicles within high risk situations, and establish intelligence resources within criminal organizations.

It also states that FAST recruits will receive training by the U.S. Special Operations Command in areas such as: close quarter combat shooting, surveillance detection, small unit tactics, combat lifesaving, IED and demolitions identification, counter-threat driving, land warfare, escape and evasion methods, convoy operations, and counter-narcotic tactical police operations.

It is not hard to draw parallels between the capabilities of the DEA FAST and any other special operations outfit working in Afghanistan. Even though they are classified as law enforcement and not military, their training and capability has allowed them to operate in the most dangerous of countries targeting the most deadly of organisations and individuals. Wherever there is a strong drugs trade, there are equally dangerous groups willing to protect their lucrative source of income. Afghanistan is certainly no exception.

With over 90% of the world’s non-pharmaceutical grade opiates originating from the country which equates to upward of $4 billion in export value annually, the insurgency certainly has a vested interest in maintaining its production and distribution channels.

The author seen here (left) on board a Mil Mi-17 helicopter with a DEA FAST Team Commander (right) during a counternarcotics operation in southern Afghanistan.