Rumsfeld wants to end support of Bahamas drug ops

By klaatu · Jun 8, 2006 · ·
  1. klaatu
    June 8, 2006

    Rumsfeld wants to end support of Bahamas drug ops

    MIAMI — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants to end Army helicopter support for a joint U.S.-Bahamas drug-interdiction program that over the past two decades has resulted in hundreds of arrests and the seizure of tons of cocaine and marijuana.

    The Army’s seven Black Hawk helicopters and their crews form the backbone of Operation Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, which the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration credits with helping drive cocaine and marijuana smugglers away from the Bahamas and its easy access to Florida.

    But in a May 15 letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Rumsfeld said it was time after more than 20 years to shift the equipment elsewhere. The military is being stretched thin by the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and other commitments around the globe.

    The Bahamas anti-drug program, Rumsfeld wrote, “now competes with resources necessary for the war on terrorism and other activities in support of our nation’s defense, with potential adverse effects on the military preparedness of the United States.”

    The letter asks Gonzales to help identify “a more appropriate agency” to provide the air support. Rumsfeld said he wants to complete the military pullout from the program by Oct. 1, 2007.

    The DEA is the other major player in the program, but it has only one helicopter in the Bahamas. The Coast Guard has three Jayhawk helicopters assigned to the program, but DEA officials said the equipment would be insufficient to provide quick response along the vast, 700-island Bahamas chain.

    “We would need some resources to be able to do that,” Mark R. Trouville, chief of DEA’s Miami field office, said in an interview. The Miami DEA office oversees U.S. anti-drug efforts in the Caribbean and Latin America.

    The Justice Department, of which DEA is a part, declined comment Wednesday on Rumsfeld’s letter. Trouville said discussions were under way regarding which agency might assume the military’s role in the Bahamas.

    Officials at the Pentagon and the U.S. Southern Command in Miami did not immediately return calls Wednesday.

    When the program began in 1982, up to 90 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the U.S. from Latin America came into Florida through the Bahamas and Caribbean. Now, most of the cocaine moves across the U.S. southwestern border, in part because of the pressure on traffickers operating off Florida’s coasts.

    “If we start letting our guard down here now, and we reduce our presence here, it will be more economical (for smugglers) to come back this way. And certainly the state of Florida is ground zero for that,” Trouville said.

    Since 2000, the program has resulted in seizure of more than 25 tons of cocaine, 82 tons of marijuana and the arrests of 786 people, according to DEA statistics from April.


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  1. klaatu
    Update - End of Army support in drug war questioned

    June 8, 2006


    MIAMI --
    The proposed withdrawal of Army air support from a U.S.-Bahamas anti-drug effort could entice cocaine and marijuana smugglers to return to the islands and undo more than two decades of progress, key U.S. lawmakers and Bahamian officials say.

    "It would clearly have negative consequences for the region as a whole," Joshua Sears, the Bahamas' ambassador to the United States, said in a telephone interview Thursday. "The traffickers obviously would see that as a signal to increase their activity."

    Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, citing war needs elsewhere, said in a letter last month that he intends to withdraw seven Army Blackhawk helicopters and their crews from Operation Bahamas, Turks and Caicos - known as OPBAT for short - by Oct. 1, 2007. The Associated Press reported the letter's contents Wednesday.

    The Blackhawks are a critical air asset for the effort.

    OPBAT was started in 1982, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration credits it with driving smugglers away from the vast chain of islands, some of which are only a few hours by boat from Florida. More than 80 percent of cocaine shipments to the United States once came through the Bahamas and Caribbean.

    Five U.S. House members, including two Republican committee chairmen, said it would be a mistake to withdraw the helicopters.

    "These assets have proven invaluable in our nation's counterdrug transit zone strategy in the Caribbean Sea," they wrote in a May 25 letter to Rumsfeld. "If you withdraw the assets in question, no other agency is capable of filling the void and another smuggling route will be significantly undermanned."

    Rumsfeld had said in announcing his decision to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that he would work with the Justice Department in finding a suitable replacement for the Blackhawks. The DEA currently has one helicopter in the Bahamas and the Coast Guard has three, although the Coast Guard number varies based on mission needs.

    Officials at the Pentagon did not respond Thursday to phone calls and an e-mail seeking comment.

    The congressional letter was signed by Reps. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the International Relations Committee, and Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the Government Reform Committee; Indiana GOP Reps. Mark E. Souder, chairman of an anti-narcotics subcommittee, and Dan Burton, head of a western hemisphere subcommittee; and Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.

  2. old hippie 56
    Now with the National Guard posted on the Mexican border, expect the southeast to regain the honor. The smugglers and the law been playing cat and mouse ever since Al Capone.
    This swim remembers in the seventies walking the beach early in the morning in Florida, finding bales of marijuana that been soaked in diesel. Coast Guard left them there, too many to pick up.
  3. halfastspeed
    Just like at the end of the cold war, the trade of weapons made some millions. This war will make many more millions in trafficked narcotics into the US. The gov't makes billions killing for oil. What's the difference?
  4. enquirewithin
    It probably won't make much difference. Th war on drugs does not decrease the amount of drugs in the US-- it just scares the population.
  5. klaatu
    Scaring the population is a *VERY* good way to keep them under control. The Bush administration and the Blair government have used that tactic very well over the last few years...

  6. IHrtHalucingens
    Being a resident of the East coast SWIM hopes that this will shift the flow of quality drugs his way, and hopefully some exotics he usually cant find. But this is probably just wishful thinking.
  7. ntcrawler
    Sounds like moving to florida willn't be so bad after all.
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