US anti-narcotics using new bases in Honduras
As recently reported in the New York Times, Honduras is the newest front in America’s drug war. Recent anti-narcotics operations in Mexico have forced over 90 percent of US-bound cocaine from Colombia and Venezuela through Central America. Over 30% of it passes through Honduras, which as a result now has one of the highest homicide rates on the planet.
The latest offensive illustrates the new US emphasis on discrete missions with small numbers of troops, partnerships with foreign military and police forces, and limited goals, whether targeting insurgents, terrorists or criminal groups opposed to American interests.
Using lessons learned in Afghanistan and Iraq, the mission here has been adapted to rules of engagement barring American combat in Central America. In past operations, helicopters ferrying Honduran and American antinarcotics squads were based in the capital, Tegucigalpa. New forward outposts patterned on those in Iraq and Afghanistan now allow for much faster response times to interdict drug runs.
American troops here cannot fire except in self-defense, and are forbidden to respond with force even if Honduran or Drug Enforcement Administration agents are in danger. Within these limits, the military provides personnel, aircraft and logistical support that Honduras, the State Department and D.E.A. cannot.
American ambassador Lisa Kubiske, who is responsible for coordinating the complex blend of interagency programs, also oversees compliance with human rights legislation. She describes the Honduran armed forces as “eager and capable partners in this joint effort.”
One of those partners, Cmdr. Pablo Rodríguez of the Honduran Navy, is happy with his new “bonus fleet” of several dozen vessels confiscated from smugglers. The US State Department provided financing to upgrade the fastest boats with Kevlar armor over outboard engines and mounts for machine guns.
“We have limitations on how quickly we can move, even when we get strong indications of a shipment of drugs,” Commander Rodríguez said. “We can’t do anything without air support. So that’s why it’s very important to have the United States coming in here.”
“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 Kernan of the US Southern Command. He claims fighting drug cartels is necessary to block terrorists from using criminal groups to stage attacks in the Americas.
There are “insidious” similarities between international criminal enterprises and terror networks, Admiral Kernan said. “They operate without regard to borders,” he said, to smuggle drugs, people, weapons and money.
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