WASHINGTON — A US agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration shot a man to death in Honduras during a raid on a drug-smuggling operation early Saturday, a spokesman for the US Embassy there said Sunday. The man who was killed had been reaching for his weapon, the official said, and the US agent fired in self-defense.
The shooting brought further attention to the growing US involvement in counternarcotics operations in Central America. Commando-style squads of DEA agents have been working with local security forces in several countries and have been present at several firefights in Honduras in which people died in the last 15 months.
The latest episode, however, is the first in which the US government has said that an American agent, rather than a Honduran police officer, had killed a suspect. The shooting underscored the sensitive issues of national sovereignty raised by the growing US participation in the operations.
The episode began early Saturday near the village of Ahuas, an isolated area of Honduras near its northern coast. The US government tracked a plane suspected of smuggling drugs from South America as it landed at a nearby airstrip, said Stephen Posivak, the spokesman for the embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in a phone interview.
Four State Department helicopters, carrying both Honduran police officers and members of the DEA’s commando-style support team, went to the site and intercepted the shipment.
During the operation, Posivak said, the government agents told a group suspected of smuggling to surrender. Four of the suspects did so, but a fifth reached for a holstered weapon. The US agent shot him before he could fire.