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SouthCom's Mixed Messages Over 'Drug War' Success

SouthCom Commander John Kelly SouthCom Commander John Kelly

A US military chief has appeared alongside a Guatemalan counterpart to laud the success of regional drug interdiction efforts, apparently contradicting a statement just two weeks earlier that the United States was falling well short of its reduction target.

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Speaking at a press conference at the Central American Security Conference, the Commander of the US South Command (SouthCom) John Kelly praised the results of "Operation Martillo," which has seen US forces work with their Central American counterparts in anti-narcotics operations.

Guatemalan military chief Rudy Ortiz announced that since the start of the operation in 2012, the flow of drugs from South America to the United States had dropped by 62 percent, reported El Mundo. 

Kelly praised the "heroic" efforts of security forces and commented that, "We have been very effective, and we could be even more effective if we had more resources."

The pair also presented the results of the operation, which in 2013 saw the seizure of 131 tons of cocaine, 4 tons of heroin, 14.5 tons of marijuana and the capture of 295 drug traffickers.

According to Kelly's Public Affairs Spokesman Gregory Julian, the widely quoted 62 percent reduction was actually a reduction to 62 percent of the previous flow.  

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While the apparent error on the part of Ortiz makes the drug flow reduction more realistic, there is still cause to question the validity of the statements made.

On March 17, Kelly spoke publically to decry how the lack of resources for SouthCom meant that they were "unable to go after 74 percent of suspected maritime drug smuggling."

"I simply sit and watch it go by," said the Commander.

According to Kelly, his forces were incapable of meeting the government target of reducing the flow of drugs by 40 percent because they only have five percent of the assets required to complete the task. When seen in the light of these comments, Kelly's statements on both occasions appear contradictory.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Security Policy

In both interviews Kelly used essentially the same statistics -- in the March interview he cited 132 tons in seizures, not 131 -- but on one occasion used it to trumpet successes, and on another to warn the United States was losing the war on drugs due to underfunding.

The contrast in the interviews suggests these statements could be politically motivated, with Kelly's March comments part of a campaign to secure more resources, while his Guatemala press conference was aimed at shoring up support for US intervention with regional allies -- notably in a country where the US-led war on drugs is being questioned at the highest level.

*This article was amended to reflect factual corrections regarding the statistic and General Kelly's statements provided to InSight Crime by SouthCom after publication.

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