WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A joint U.S.-Honduras anti-drug operation that resulted in several fatal shootings in the Central American country in 2012 was poorly coordinated, according to an internal review on Wednesday.
The review looked at three fatal incidents that were part of Operation Anvil, a 90-day pilot programme designed to disrupt drug flights from South America to Honduras.
Neither U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents nor Honduran tactical police involved in the operation had a clear understanding of “how their partners would respond to an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury,” the report on the shootings found.
The review by State and Justice department inspectors general also found the DEA had failed to “ensure appropriate mechanisms were in place to adequately respond to shooting incidents.” As a result, police on the ground were sometimes left in dangerous tactical situations.
In one incident, a small boat carrying a U.S. agent and two Honduran police lost power as it was travelling down a river at night with a load of cocaine they had seized.
When a slightly larger boat with a dozen passengers approached them in the darkness, they opened fire thinking the were under attack. They radioed a Honduran helicopter and directed the door-gunner open fire on the boat, the report said.
The Justice Department inspector general concluded that video footage of the incident did not support a DEA claim that the police boat had come under fire from the passenger boat, which some news accounts said was a water taxi.
A Honduran special prosecutor found that four people were killed in the incident, the report said. U.S. and Honduran officials later made efforts to compensate the victims of the incident.
The report criticized DEA’s failure to adequately investigate the shooting incident immediately, saying it only launched a review in the face of “mounting pressure” and then opened a process that was “little more than a paper exercise.”
“We recommend the DEA revise its post-shooting incident procedures to ensure that DEA timely and adequately investigates incidents like May 11,” the Justice Department inspector general investigator said.
Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Cynthia Osterman