WASHINGTON -- In what has turned out to be the bloodiest month of the war in Afghanistan, there is a growing chorus of critics who claim that the fight is no longer worth the cost. Though most of those saying so aren't paying the price, the toll was evident at Dover Air Force Base early Thursday morning as 21 flag-draped gunmetal transfer cases were conveyed solemnly from the ramp of an Air Force C-17.
Ten of those aboard -- seven U.S. Army soldiers and three special agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration -- were killed the night of Monday, Oct. 26, when their helicopter crashed during an "extract" from a successful raid mission in northwestern Badghis province. For the first time since becoming commander in chief, Barack Obama was there to greet the grieving families. He was accompanied by Attorney General Eric Holder and DEA acting Administrator Michele Leonhart. It was the right thing to do.
Last month, our Fox News team was embedded with this same unit as they conducted similar operations. Special Agents Forrest Leamon, Chad Michael and Michael Weston were the first DEA personnel to be killed in Afghanistan since the war began. They and the U.S. military Special Operations Command unit with them were all part of a major effort to reduce funding available to the Taliban from illegal narcotics.
Ninety percent of the world's opium originates in Afghanistan. Heroin and morphine base are the country's major export commodities. Since being driven from power in Kabul in 2001, the Taliban have reaped hundreds of millions of dollars from the opium trade by taxing farmers, protecting laboratories and shipments, and delivering precursor chemicals for refining the raw product. The vast amount of money derived from opium production fuels not only the insurgency but also rampant corruption at every level of government in Afghanistan.
To break this nexus of drugs, violence and vice, the DEA's presence in Afghanistan has been increased more than fivefold in the past year. Today the DEA has more than 80 special agents and hundreds of intelligence specialists, translators, contract trainers and support personnel on the ground. Foreign-deployed advisory and support teams, or FAST -- supplemented by other in-country agents, U.S. Special Operations Command units and Afghan commandos -- carry out direct action strikes against known high-value targets dozens of times each month. Nearly all of these missions are carried out at night -- with all U.S. and allied personnel involved wearing night vision devices.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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