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Official seeks larger counter-drug fleet

Apr. 13, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Coast Guard's international seizure nets $37 milli
Crew members of the cutter Sitkinak offload 2,500 pounds of cocaine Jan. 28 in Miami. The service and its partners at Joint Interagency Task Force South seized 40 metric tons of cocaine in 2013. (Coast Guard)
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The Coast Guard aims to seize 40 percent of the estimated 890 metric tons of cocaine moving between South America and the U.S. every year, but it would take more than a dozen additional ships to close in on that goal.

An increased presence in the transit zone between the U.S. and South America would be enough to stem the tide of cocaine coming into this country, officials said April 8 at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space exposition outside Washington, D.C.

“We need about 16 ships, and in the words of [U.S. Southern Command chief Marine] Gen. [John] Kelly, they don’t need to be destroyers, they don’t need to be fancy,” said Air Force Brig Gen. Steve DePalmer, deputy director at Joint Interagency Task Force South. “They just need to be something that floats, that can trundle along, maybe launch a helicopter — and also launch a Coast Guard law enforcement detachment.”

The estimate of 890 metric tons is based on intelligence gathered on growing productions, deputy for operations and policy Rear Adm. Dean Lee said.

With its current resources, the Coast Guard seized about 40 metric tons of cocaine in 2013, while law enforcement seized another 65 metric tons on land.

“Why should we care? How does it affect the average citizen that’s sitting in his armchair in Nebraska watching the evening news?” Lee said. “Well, it’s this: Transnational organized crime fuels instability downrange, instability is a threat to our national security. It’s a threat to our economy.”

Instability in South America, particularly, is of concern to SOCOM and the joint investments the military has made in training South American militaries to maintain peace. While they lean on their partners to seize drugs in their own countries, they can’t leave it all up to them, Lee said.

What’s more, it’s not just cocaine they’re transporting, he added.

“They will trade or traffic anything for a dollar,” Lee said. “If it’s not drugs, then it’s humans. If it’s not humans, then it’s weapons. If it’s not weapons, then it’s money. And you can go on and on and on.”■

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