Commanders say defense cuts have helped drug trafficking

Defense cuts have made it easier for drug shipments to get to the U.S. by sea, two commanders testified on Wednesday.

The cuts have left fewer ships on the open seas, and that means the mlitary has been able to stop fewer shipmeents, they said.

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“Less ships, less cocaine off the market,” said Gen. James F. Kelly, the commander of the U.S. Southern Command.

He testified along with the commander of U.S. Northern Command Gen. Charles Jacoby at a House Armed Services Committee on the commands’ posture in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Kelly said the vast majority of drugs imported into the U.S. are shipped to Latin America, flown into Mexico, and are taken across the border into the U.S.  

“But 74 percent of it, I watch go by. I can't touch it. And when I say I watch it go by, in the maritime domain to Honduras primarily, it's because I don't have the assets to stop it,” Kelly said.

In 2011, Kelly said, the U.S. interdicted 172 metric tons of cocaine. In 2012, the U.S. only interdicted 152 tons. In 2013, only 132 tons were interdicted.

“If it hits the shore in Mexico or into the upper portions of Central America and then crosses into Mexico, it's broken into very small loads and almost impossible to do effective interdiction,” Jacoby said.

Kelly said 40,000 Americans die from these imported drugs every year, and it costs the U.S. $26 billion a year in law enforcement, and $200 billion in healthcare costs.