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Italian police have busted an international drug ring that had been sending steroids and performance-enhancing drugs to U.S. soldiers in Iraq who, Italian investigators say, were ordering them via the Internet.

But for unknown reasons — possibly security precautions — the packages and envelopes of drugs were not reaching some of the troops, said Mario Bo, head of the criminal division for the Trieste, Italy, police department.

Instead, the drug-filled parcels addressed to U.S. troops in Iraq were being returned to an Italian post office in Trieste, and because dealers had not included a return address, they piled up, prompting postal officials to call police, Bo said.

As of Tuesday, no U.S. military officials had approached Italian officials for the names of prospective buyers in Iraq, Bo said.

Officials at the U.S. military command in Iraq said Tuesday that they were looking into the issue but could not provide more details by deadline.

U.S. troops were not the only “clients” among the long list of buyers from France, Great Britain, Belgium, Puerto Rico, the United States and Canada, Bo said.

After a nearly five-month investigation, Trieste police on Saturday busted the 2-million-euro-a-year (about $2.4 million) drug operation and arrested two men from Slovenia, he said. Another eight, who are Italian, are being investigated as buyers. Italian police have no jurisdiction to prosecute buyers from outside of Italy, he said.

Unit leaders and soldiers contacted in Iraq said the issue was news to them.

“We do not have this problem in Deuce Four,” Lt. Col. Erik Kurilla, commander for 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, now serving in Mosul, said in an e-mail. “We do 100 percent health and welfare checks often, basically lock down a unit and go through everything looking for anything illegal. We have never found drugs or steroids.

“I have heard of only a few cases of drugs in other battalions supplied by interpreters, but this has never surfaced in Deuce Four. Our mail clerk also handles every package that arrives in the battalion and he has not seen strange European addresses either.”

Similar responses came from troops serving in Baghdad and Marines in Fallujah.

“You saw the boys here, they are skinny and worn out from being out so much, even the Weapons [company] guys, who are typically your bruisers, are dropping weight here [because] of the hours, the heat, the food, the stress, etc.,” said one Marine with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment in an e-mail.

A soldier in Baghdad who works in the U.S. military’s legal community also was surprised to hear the news.

“I have not heard anything about this. It is news to me,” he said.

The packages contain names and ranks of U.S. servicemembers who presumably ordered the steroids via the Internet and prepaid using credit cards, Bo said. He declined to provide the Internet address that was selling the drugs.

While names of troops serving in Iraq can be found in the public domain — including on Web sites where troops can ask for specific care packages from strangers — there would be no money to be made by drug dealers randomly mailing steroids to troops, Bo said.

Drug testing in a combat zone is determined by each of the service’s surgeon generals’ offices, U.S. military officials said.


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