The U.S. military has sharply reduced its role in the war on drugs, leaving significant gaps in the nation’s narcotics interdiction efforts, reports the Los Angeles Times. Since 1989, Congress has designated the Pentagon as the lead federal agency in detecting and monitoring illegal narcotics shipments headed to the U.S. by air and sea and in supporting Coast Guard efforts to intercept them. Since 2002, the military has withdrawn many of its resources in the drug war. In the last four years the Pentagon has cut by more than 62 percent surveillance flight-hours over Caribbean and Pacific Ocean routes used to smuggle cocaine, marijuana and, increasingly, Colombian-produced heroin. The Navy is deploying one-third fewer patrol boats in search of smugglers.
Last fall, the Pentagon told Congress that “detecting drug trafficking is a lower priority than supporting our service members on ongoing combat missions.” It’s hard to gauge the effect of the pullback because authorities know only the amount of narcotics they are seizing, not how much is getting through – especially with fewer surveillance planes and boats to gather intelligence. With Pentagon support dropping, the Coast Guard and Homeland Security agencies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection are trying to play a greater role in the interdiction effort. Officials say those agencies do not have the resources to do the job because they, too, have had to redistribute resources since the post-Sept. 11 reorganization that made Homeland Security the front line anti-terror agency.