MIAMI, Florida - U.S. President Donald Trump went to Florida on Friday for a briefing on what he said has been a successful operation to cut the flow of illegal drugs into the United States.
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper accompanied the president to U.S. Southern Command headquarters where Trump was briefed on the campaign against drug traffickers. The whole-of-government and international operation against international drug cartels involves 16 federal agencies and 20 international partners.
"In just 12 weeks, Southcom's surge operation conducted with key regional partners has resulted in more than 1,000 arrests and the interdiction of 120 metric tons," the president said at the beginning of the briefing. "I can only tell you, that's a lot of narcotics worth billions and billions of dollars. We're determined to keep dangerous drugs out of the country and away from our children. We're securing our seas. We're securing our borders. This is a new operation that has not been done before. And this operation has been incredibly successful."
Esper said the drug cartels have destroyed far too many American lives by smuggling heroin, cocaine, fentanyl and methamphetamines into the United States, leading to drug overdoses and addiction in many communities.
The cartels also use the profits from the drug trade to cause disruptions throughout Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean.
"Despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, our enhanced counter narcotics operations have shown great success in countering those threats by disrupting the flow of illicit drugs, denying our adversaries financial resources, and strengthening the capacity of partner countries in the region," the secretary said.
The U.S. military increased capabilities in the region at the president's direction, Esper said. There are now 75% more surveillance aircraft and 65% more ships than usual for drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific area and the Caribbean. "These additional assets include four Navy destroyers, five Coast Guard cutters and eight aircraft," Esper said. "Currently, nearly a dozen Navy and Coast Guard ships and over 15 aircraft from across the interagency are supporting our efforts in addition to security forces deployed to the region."
International partners have also joined the effort and have stepped up their involvement in drug interdictions. "We denied nearly $2 billion in drug profits, increased our targeting of known smuggling maritime events by 60% and neutralized dozens of members of transnational criminal organizations," Esper said. "These efforts have been critical to saving countless American lives and making our communities ... healthier, safer and stronger."
Navy Adm. Craig S. Faller, the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, said intelligence sources report that the cartels are watching the increase and are stockpiling drugs and trying to change their tactics. "Those additional Navy ships, the AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control Systems] from the Air Force, Oklahoma [National] Guard MC-12s, DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] agents - it's a whole team effort to make a difference here," said Faller.
The Southcom commander said international partner participation is key. Intelligence and information sharing, joint training and enhanced national capabilities make the international partners forces to be reckoned with.