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US general: Budget cuts will hurt drug seizures

US general: Budget cuts will hurt drug seizures

Defense Department budget cuts will dramatically slash U.S. efforts to seize illegal drug shipments at sea, the top commander in South America told senators Tuesday, saying the number of ships at his disposal for counter-drug operations will drop from about six to possibly zero.
Gen. John Kelly, head of U.S. Southern Command, said U.S. forces seized 150 to 200 tons of cocaine during operations on the high seas last year. But he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that if the budget cuts stand, "Next year all of that will make its way ashore and into the United States."
With the U.S. at war in Afghanistan, other military commanders around the world have struggled to get intelligence, surveillance and other assets in their regions. Kelly acknowledged that he doesn't get too much at Southern Command, but he'd get "just about zero" if the deep budget cuts continue.
The Pentagon was already facing a $487 billion, 10-year reduction in projected spending as part of the budget law that Obama and congressional Republicans agreed to in August 2011. In addition to that, the military is wrestling with $43 billion in cuts that went into effect on March 1.
Both Navy and Coast Guard ships are used to patrol the waters of the Caribbean and the eastern Pacific, but Navy officials have already announced that the deployment of the frigate USS Thach may be cut short and a second frigate, the USS Rentz, may not be sent out.
Kelly said the cuts would hamper his efforts to meet President Barack Obama's goal of intercepting 40 percent of the illicit drug shipments flowing into the region by 2015. He said the ships are key to the fight because the fast boats and other vessels used by smugglers can carry so much more drugs than they can transport by plane.
Some of the ships smuggling drugs, he said, can carry 10 to 20 tons of cocaine.
He said that with surveillance technology, U.S. military and law enforcement forces can identify drug traffickers more easily on the open seas and can often gain information about the drug networks from those they capture.
Kelly said the top three areas of cocaine production are Peru, Bolivia and Colombia, and as much as 20 percent of the cocaine moving through South America ends up in the United States. Large amounts also travel across the ocean into Africa, providing funding for insurgents and drug traffickers, and then on into Europe.
Noting the Navy has also said that the deployment of the USNS Comfort hospital ship will likely be either delayed or cut, Kelly said that some leaders in South America are beginning to question the United States' commitment to the region.
"The concern on the part of many of our Latin American friends and partners is that we're withdrawing," said Kelly. And he said that may open the door for more involvement by countries such as China and Iran, who are getting more active in investing and building in a number of South American nations.
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Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed.


Updated : 2021-07-24 23:41 GMT+08:00