Gen. John Kelly: Budget Cuts Decimate War on Latin American Drugs

Friday, 14 Mar 2014 01:39 PM

By Joe Battaglia

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The head of the U.S. Southern Command said that defense budget cuts are reversing hard-fought gains in the battle against Latin American drug trafficking networks.

In strikingly-candid testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Marine Gen. John F. Kelly said that because of a shortfall of assets he is unable to pursue 74 percent of suspected maritime drug trafficking.

"I simply sit and watch it go by," Kelly said, according to the American Forces Press Service. "And because of service cuts, I don't expect to get any immediate relief, in terms of assets, to work with in this region of the world."

Kelly said that of the five overseas combatant commands, his has the "least priority," and told reporters at the Pentagon that there would be consequences if that does not change.

"Without assets, certain things will happen," Kelly said. "Much larger amounts of drugs will flow up from Latin America. We’ll do less and less engagement with our friends and partners in the region."

In fiscal 2013, Kelly submitted written testimony to the Senate panel that stated the United States and allied nations were able to interdict 132 metric tons of cocaine, 15 percent less than the year before. He estimated that authorities seize just 20 percent of narcotics in transit to the United States, a statistic several senators called alarming.

"That’s all we get?" Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking member of the committee, asked, according to a Washington Post report.

Kelly explained at a later press briefing that the 132 tons of cocaine seized by his command, was done with just one Navy ship and two Coast Guard cutters he has assigned to counter narcotics smuggling.

"Three ships, 132 tons," he told reporters at the Pentagon. "The year before that, we took 153 or 154 tons. Why less this year than last year? Less assets. It's almost a scientific equation: more assets, more tonnage."

Kelly added that in order to fulfill a mandate by President Barack Obama to reduce the amount of drug traffic from Latin America by 40 percent, he needs additional helicopter-carrying ships.

"I don't need a warship. I need a ship, something that floats, with a helicopter," Kelly said, the press service reported. "We think it takes 16 of those things to accomplish the 40-percent mission."

Kelly said he has about 5 percent of the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance equipment he needs to have a complete handle on the trafficking activities in his region.

"I would say 5 percent is jaw-dropping, frankly, in terms of the threats that you’ve just talked about," Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said. "I think this is something that we better address as a committee."

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