Leon Panetta told Latin American officials Monday that using military personnel as civilian police was not a "long-term solution."
The US Defense Secretary acknowledged, however, that it is sometimes difficult to determine which forces are best to deal with issues such as drug trafficking. The US has also struggled with, and shifted, the lines between law enforcement and military work since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
"As partners, the United States will do what we can to bridge the capability gaps between armed forces and law enforcement," Panetta said at the 10th Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas, Reuters reported. "We can and we will provide a helping hand, but ultimately civilian authorities must be able to shoulder this burden on their own."
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Panetta also used his opening remarks to push forward a new Chilean initiative for a database that would allow countries across the Western hemisphere to coordinate disaster responses more effectively, the Associated Press reported.
"This will be the first time, we hope, that this conference which started back in 1986, will actually approve something tangible, concrete and actionable. This forum had in the past been one for dialogue and discussion," a senior US official said, on condition that he not be named, Agence France Presse reported.
Panetta delivered his comments in Uruguay, the last leg of his three-day visit to South America to push for stronger ties and cooperation between American militaries, Reuters reported. It is his second visit to the region so far this year.
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