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DoD Actively Supports Counterdrug Efforts

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30, 1998 – DoD continues to play an important role in the nation's counterdrug effort, said Ana Maria Salazar, the department's deputy assistant secretary for drug enforcement policy and support.

Salazar, who came to the job following a stint battling drugs with the Justice Department, said she was "amazed" at the number of DoD counterdrug programs. "We have a good story here, both from a drug-use reduction side and in support law enforcement [agencies]," she said.

DoD has taken strong and resolute steps to reduce drug demand in the military. "This year, out of 2.5 million urine test samples tested, we identified only .7 percent as positive," she said. "And we continue to see that percentage reduce." Salazar said the deterrent program -- urinalysis -- has to go hand-in-hand with an ongoing education program.

She said service members are at the forefront of efforts to reduce drugs in families and in surrounding civilian communities. She cited as examples the Young Marines program, post and base after school programs, and numerous Big Brother and Big Sister programs.

Salazar said the drug of choice continues to be marijuana. She said there has been an increase in amphetamine abuse, and DoD drug-testing efforts are aimed at identifying service members who abuse those drugs. "We definitely see an increase in the civilian community of so-called designer drugs -- Ecstasy is an example," she said. "[Abusers] could potentially become a problem in the military, but we have drug testing that identifies them."

Active military support to counterdrug programs continues, she said. One major effort, border patrols, stopped following the recent shooting death of a young Texas shepherd who stumbled upon a Marine drug interdiction patrol. The patrols were charged to watch remote areas of the border and report anything suspicious to law enforcement authorities -- by law, the military cannot take the place of law enforcement agencies.

Still, the department continues its flow of support to local law enforcement officials. "The total budget for [DoD] counterdrug activities is $700 million in fiscal 1999," Salazar said. While this is down from years past, this does not represent a downgrade, she said.

"We don't have to buy infrastructure and ramp up new programs," she said. "The infrastructure is in place and money can go to maintaining already existing programs." Further, some former DoD programs are now run by law enforcement agencies.

Training is an important part of DoD's involvement in counterdrug programs. "We provide our expertise to [military] counterparts around the world, but especially in Latin America," Salazar said. Programs range from instructing local police and militaries in using helicopters to conducting operations on regional rivers and backwaters.

"Riverine" operations, she said, are an example of cooperation between other countries and the United States in trying to stay one step ahead of drug traffickers.

"We were very successful in the Peru Air Bridge program," she said. "We see a massive reduction in planes bringing drugs out of Peru to Colombia and other countries for eventual transshipment to the United States. When we see these programs are successful, we need to anticipate where traffickers will move. In Peru and Colombia, those routes are the rivers."

Salazar said another successful area is the Caribbean. Air smuggling has dropped, and now DoD is looking at the Pacific to see if smugglers try to exploit that area.

DoD provides other support to law enforcement. Along the U.S. southern border, National Guardsmen help customs inspectors check cargoes and vehicles coming into the United States. Engineers have built roads into areas along the border. DoD provides translators to U.S. and foreign law enforcement agencies. Excess military helicopters, communications equipment, and even uniforms, have gone to foreign, state and local law enforcement agencies.

DoD has also developed technology to help combat drug trafficking. "All the exotic and large X-ray machines ... that basically can X-ray an entire truck and can identify contraband and drugs are products of DoD support," Salazar said. DoD also developed "sniffer" machines, now in use at some airports, that can detect drugs or explosives.

Salazar said DoD is making a difference in the fight against drugs, but describing impact and successes puts her in a difficult position. "To describe them we have to say, 'If these programs did not exist, the United States would be worse off.' How do you quantify a negative?" she said.

"We can't qualify what DoD support has meant. Yet when we speak with federal, state and local law enforcement officials, they say, 'Without the support of DoD we would not be able to do our jobs,'" she said.

"So, we thank those service members who participate in this effort -- whether they work at preventing children from trying drugs or they are on the border helping customs officials," Salazar said. "They have all worked to get rid of this threat."

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