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Pentagon Deploying More Ships, Forces to Latin America

FILE - Admiral Craig Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, speaks with reporters following a commissioning ceremony for the U.S. Navy's guided missile destroyer, the USS Paul Ignatius, at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., July 27, 2019.

U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) plans to increase U.S. military presence in the Western Hemisphere while taking on funding cuts to partner security programs that help Latin American partners counter drug cartels.

In written testimony Wednesday, SOUTHCOM commander Admiral Craig Faller said the U.S. “only enabled the successful interdiction of about 9% of known drug movement” recently in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Faller told the House Armed Services Committee that he'd need significant assets to drastically improve that number, including dozens of ships.

“Recognizing these complex challenges in our neighborhood, we will see an increase in U.S. military presence in the hemisphere,” Faller said, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon after the briefing.

Partners vital

The increase, which is coinciding with a Pentagon review of the command, will include more ships, aircraft and forces, said Faller, who declined to discuss numbers.

But the increase will not be enough to fully counter the threats, which is “why it's so important to get partners in the game," Faller added.

Last year, half of U.S. drug interdictions in the region were enabled by local partner forces, according to SOUTHCOM.

The need for more partner nation participation comes as the latest Pentagon budget slashes SOUTHCOM’s partner security program funds by about 20%.

"That reduction will mean we’ll have to make some choices and have to defund some programs … that have increased our partners’ ability to do things like counternarcotics,” Faller said Wednesday.

He added that the increased military presence would help the U.S. offset short-term losses to security cooperation program funding. But he acknowledged that “there might be some areas where we'll take risks as we look in the future.”

Georgian scolds administration

The Pentagon’s failure to prioritize the geographic command responsible for counternarcotics operations south of the United States has hurt Americans, Republican Representative Austin Scott of Georgia said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on national security challenges in the Western Hemisphere.

"All of the additional money we've given [to defense] has been transferred to other priorities and not to the priority that is resulting in more deaths than any other area," Scott said, adding that the U.S. saw tens of thousands die last year from drug overdoses.

Scott scolded administration officials for giving the command “what’s left over” in intelligence and surveillance abilities after fulfilling other regions’ needs.

SOUTHCOM’s budget for this year is $1.2 billion, which is 1/14th of what was spent in Afghanistan alone.