The Obama administration has rejected calls from the Pentagon to expand the military’s role in the border crisis despite admitting that the human trafficking, drugs and weapons smuggling operations threaten national security, Defense One reported
Obama’s request to Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funding to deal with the deluge of illegal immigrants on the southern border doesn't for a greater military presence in the region.
The administration has balked at turning to the military for help in handling the crisis despite the Pentagon expressing fears that the dangers to the United States from the border surge are increasing, Defense One said.
"There’s no doubt that the relentless efforts on the part of traffickers and smugglers to get drugs, people and weapons into the U.S. undetected is a national security concern," deputy White House press secretary Shawn Turner told Defense One on Thursday.
"This is a multi-faceted issue. While there are national security concerns, it’s not solely a military issue. Three months ago the military was playing a role in NORTHCOM (Northern Command) and SOUTHCOM (Southern Command) helping with the narcotics issue on the borders. Today that role remains the same."
The White House does not fully agree, however, with statements last week from the general in charge of the Central America region that the border crisis is an "existential" threat to U.S. national security.
Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly
, the chief of the U.S. Southern Command, said, "In comparison to other global threats, the near collapse of societies in the hemisphere with the associated drug and [immigrant] flow are frequently viewed to be of low importance. Many argue that these threats are not existential and do not challenge our national security. I disagree."
Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby has since said that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel supported Kelly’s remarks about the dangers facing the United States from the massive surge of illegal immigrants, many of them teenaged minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
"He certainly shares Kelly’s concerns about the threats emanating from the south, particularly from transnational criminal networks, which are causing a lot of the instability, which is encouraging these young children and their families to flee," Kirby said at the Pentagon this week.
The admiral said that budget cuts are hurting the military’s ability to remain a strong presence in the region.
"One of the things I think Gen. Kelly said, and again, I know that Secretary Hagel would echo it, is that with sequestration looming over, it’s not going to help us deal with those threats any better," Kirby said. "So we really do need to get the funding bill passed."
A Democratic coalition in Congress has called for increased resources to SOUTHCOM to counter the potential threats imposed by the immigrant influx, Defense One said.
However, while noting that the United States may yet call for more military involvement, White House spokesman Turner said that Customs and Border Patrol agents "are on the frontline of the battle to stop the illegal flow of people and contraband" on the border. "They are the best and most qualified resource we have for that job."
But SOUTHCOM spokesman Col. Greg Julian said that the military is responsible for helping to fight the illicit trafficking of drugs, weapons and people in the region through military training, joint exercises and infrastructure support.
The Southern Command has organized four multinational exercises in 2014 that include Colombia, El Salvador, Panama, Guatemala, Defense One said.
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