The U.S. military has begun operations to stop the illicit flow of narcotics across the country’s southern border at President Donald Trump’s direction, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced Wednesday at a White House briefing.
“Today, at the president’s direction, the Department of Defense, in close cooperation with our interagency partners, began enhanced counternarcotics operations in the eastern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea,” Esper announced.
“This initiative is part of the administration’s whole of government approach to combating the flow of illicit drugs into the United States and protecting the American people from their scourge,” he added.
Esper said to conduct the operations, the president has directed the deployment of military assets to the U.S. Southern Command (Southcom) area of responsibility.
“Included in this force package are Navy destroyers and littoral combat ships, Coast Guard cutters, P-8 patrol aircraft, and elements of an Army Security Force Assistance Brigade. These additional forces will nearly double our capacity to conduct counternarcotics operations in the region,” he said.
Esper said many criminal organizations are attempting to capitalize on the coronavirus crisis.
“As nations around the world shift their focus inward to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, many criminal organizations are attempting to capitalize on this crisis,” he said.
“The enhanced operations we are announcing today will keep the pressure on these criminal groups and protect the American people from the devastation caused by the flow of illegal drugs into our country. Mr. President, thank you for your leadership as we begin this important operation.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley added that intelligence showed that drug cartels were trying to take advantage of the coronavirus crisis and try to “infiltrate additional drugs into our country.”
As we know, 70,000 Americans die on an average annual basis to drugs. That’s unacceptable. We’re at war with COVID-19, we’re at war with terrorists, and we are at war with the drug cartels as well. This is the United States military, you will not penetrate this country, you will not get past Jump Street, you’re not going to come in here and kill additional Americans, and we will marshal whatever assets are required to prevent your entry into this country to kill Americans.
So right now, the Navy has marshaled additional grey hull ships from both [Indo-Pacific Command] and [European Command] for the naval fleet at Norfolk and they are set sail already, and they are in the Caribbean right now. In addition to that, there’s ten Coast Guard cutters and there’s Special Operations Forces and Security Force Assistance Brigades, along with Air Force reconnaissance aircraft.
The bottom line is you’re not going to get through. Now is not the time to try to penetrate the United States with illegal drugs to kill Americans. We’re the United States military, and we will defend our country, regardless of the cost.
Esper said last year, Southcom seized over 280 metric tons of drugs, much of which was designated for shipment to the U.S.
“While this was an incredible achievement, there is much more work to be done. Transnational criminal organizations continue to threaten our security by smuggling cocaine, fentanyl, methamphetamines, and other narcotics across our borders. These drug traffickers put our communities at risk and destroy lives,” he said.
The effort will also involve the Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Justice Department, and the intelligence community, as well as 22 partner nations, Esper said.
Attorney General Bill Barr said one of the Justice Department’s highest priorities remains to destroy the Mexican cartels.
“Obviously during this crisis, we’re all focused above all else on COVID-19, but at the same time, our law enforcement and national security work must go forward, protecting the American people from the full array of threats,” he said. He added:
For the Department of Justice, one of our highest priorities must remain destroying the Mexican cartels. Their trafficking is largely responsible for the deaths, as we all know now, of 70,000 Americans a year. And also, the costs of this don’t count the destroyed families, the destroyed lives, the draining of our national treasure as state budgets are crushed by the burden that this narcotic trafficking causes.
The president has made clear that we are in this fight against the cartels to win and that we are not interested in half measures and that the threat posed by the cartel is not just a law enforcement threat but a national security threat, as well.
National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said the initiative was another example of bold leadership by President Trump.
“The uncontrolled flow of illegal drugs into the United States poisons our communities, fuels the epidemic of addiction, and threatens the safety and security of all Americans,” he said.
“Criminals should make no mistake that even as we are working around the clock to fight the spread of coronavirus, we will continue to execute the president’s counternarcotics strategy.”