U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) plans to increase U.S. military presence in the Western Hemisphere while taking on funding cuts to security programs that help Latin American partners counter drug cartels.
In written testimony March 11, U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, SOUTHCOM commander, said the U.S. “only enabled the successful interdiction of about 9 percent of known drug movement” recently in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Adm. Faller told the U.S. 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,” Adm. Faller said, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon after the briefing.
The increase, which coincides with a Pentagon review of the command, will include more ships, aircraft and forces, said Adm. 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,” Adm. Faller added.
Last year, local partner forces enabled half of U.S. drug interdictions in the region, 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 percent.
“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,” Adm. Faller said.
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.”