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US Takes Lower-Key Drug War Approach

Taking hard lessons from the Middle East, the US deploys fewer troops in Honduras, with a more focused mission.

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By McCarton Ackerman

05/07/12

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After a decade of controversy and bad press in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military is utilizing a very different strategy to combat drug smuggling in Honduras: small-footprint missions with limited troop numbers, partnerships with foreign military and police forces, and narrowly-defined goals. Around 90% of Colombian and Venezuelan cocaine passes through Central America to the US each year—and with a third of that (250-300 tons) coming via Honduras, the country has become the new focus in America's drug war. But this mission adheres to strict rules: US troops are not allowed to fire unless in self-defense and are barred from responding with force—even if Honduran or Drug Enforcement Administration agents are in danger. And instead of deploying millions of troops like in Iraq and Afghanistan, just 600 are responsible for all US military efforts across Central America. “The drug demand in the United States certainly exacerbates challenges placed upon our neighboring countries fighting against these organizations—and why it is so important that we partner with them in their countering efforts,” says Vice Admiral Joseph D. Kernan, the No. 2 officer at Southern Command, which is responsible for military activities in Central and South America. The sharp decrease in permanent American deployments overseas also reflects a much smaller Pentagon budget for such purposes.

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