Monday, January 22, 2007
From LATimes.com: Stretched thin from fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has sharply reduced its role in the war on drugs, leaving significant gaps in the nation's narcotics interdiction efforts. Since 1989, Congress has directed the Pentagon to be the lead federal agency in detecting and monitoring illegal narcotics shipments headed to the United States by air and sea and in supporting Coast Guard efforts to intercept them. In the early 1990s, at the height of the drug war, U.S. military planes and boats filled the southern skies and waters in search of cocaine-laden vessels coming from Colombia and elsewhere in South America. But since 2002, the military has withdrawn many of those resources, according to more than a dozen current and former counter-narcotics officials, as well as a review of congressional, military and Homeland Security documents.
Internal records show that in the last four years the Pentagon has reduced by more than 62% its surveillance flight-hours over Caribbean and Pacific Ocean routes that are used to smuggle cocaine, marijuana and, increasingly, Colombian-produced heroin. At the same time, the Navy is deploying one-third fewer patrol boats in search of smugglers. The Defense Department also plans to withdraw as many as 10 Black Hawk helicopters that have been used by a multi-agency task force to move quickly to make drug seizures and arrests in the Caribbean, a major hub for drugs heading to the United States. And the military has deactivated many of the high-tech surveillance "aerostats," or radar balloons, that once guarded the entire southern border, saying it lacks the funds to restore and maintain them. Full story here from LATimes. . . [Michele Berry]