Trump announces enhanced counternarcotics operation at coronavirus briefing
Trump administration officials announced Wednesday that the U.S. military would send naval ships and aircraft to the Caribbean as part of an enhanced counternarcotics operation.
President Trump and other top officials discussed the operation at the top of a White House coronavirus briefing Wednesday evening. Trump said it was important not to let drug cartels “exploit the pandemic to threaten American lives.”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Pentagon would deploy additional ships, aircraft and security forces to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility as part of the operation.
“At a time when the nation and the Department of Defense are focused on protecting the American people from the spread from the coronavirus, we also remain vigilant to the many other threats the country faces,” Esper told reporters.
“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,” he continued.
The announcement came at the top of a regular White House briefing dedicated to the response to the coronavirus pandemic and provided some counterprogramming to the administration’s usual announcements about efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 throughout the United States.
The Defense secretary described the operation as 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.”
Later, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley seemed to expand on Trump’s earlier remarks, suggesting that the U.S. military obtained intelligence suggesting that Mexican drug cartels were trying to exploit the domestic focus on the spread of the coronavirus.
“We came upon some intelligence some time ago that the drug cartels as a result of COIVD-19 were going to try to take advantage of the situation and try to infiltrate additional drugs into our country,” Milley said, without providing further detail. “We’re at war with COVID-19, we’re at war with terrorists, and we’re at war with drug cartels as well.”
Asked to address the announcement, Trump said it was important to the administration to focus on reducing the flow of illicit drugs into the country.
Attorney General William Barr, who also participated in the announcement, predicted the operation would “radically improve” U.S. interdiction efforts in addition to putting pressure on drug cartels.
Trump, answering questions from reporters later, said it was important to him to focus on drugs and hoped the operation would prevent a “good percentage” of illicit narcotics from coming into the U.S.
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