US military's counter-narcotics effort at risk: general

Pentagon budget cuts will undermine the US military's efforts to seize illegal narcotics shipments out of Latin America and will open the way to more cocaine flowing to the United States, a top US general warned Wednesday.

General John Kelly, head of US Southern Command, told lawmakers that "between 150 and 200 tons of cocaine" had been seized last year before reaching the shores of Central America, thanks to surveillance aircraft and naval ships.

But he said automatic budget cuts that went into effect this month could deprive his command of the surveillance planes, ships and other resources needed to stem the flow of illegal drugs bound for the United States, via Honduras and Central American countries.

"If I lose those assets, if they go to zero as some are predicting, all of that cocaine and more, I would predict, will get ashore and be on the streets of New York and Boston very, very quickly," Kelly told the House Armed Services Committee.

Although Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador were fully behind Washington's efforts to counter drug trafficking, the key to limiting the flow of narcotics was to intercept shipments at sea, as it was difficult to halt shipments once the drugs reached Central America, he said.

Under automatic spending cuts enacted by Congress, the Pentagon must slash $46 billion from its budget through September, with little flexibility to shift the reductions among different accounts or programs. And over the next ten years, the Pentagon must absorb $500 billion in automatic cuts.