Pubdate: Sun, 11 Jun 2006
Source: Nassau Guardian, The (Bahamas)
Copyright: 2006 The Nassau Guardian.
Author: Ianthia Smith, Guardian Staff Reporter
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Donald Rumsfeld)


US Officials are asking Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to 
reconsider his plan to end Army helicopter support to fight drug 
trafficking in The Bahamas.

Mr Rumsfield has backed a proposal to pull out helicopter support 
from Operation Bahamas, Turks and Caicos (OPBAT).

Two Hoosier lawmakers say no other US agency is capable of filling 
the void that would be left in a major counter-drug programme that 
operates in The Bahamas.

"If you withdraw the assets," Indiana Reps Mark Souder and Dan Burton 
wrote to Rumsfeld with three other Republicans, "no other agency is 
capable of filling the void, and another smuggling route will be left 
significantly undermanned."

The Bahamas Ambassador to The United States told The Associated Press 
that this move would clearly have negative consequences for the 
region as a whole, as traffickers would use this as an opportunity to 
increase their activity. The US Army's seven Blackhawk helicopters 
and their crews form the backbone of OPBAT, which the Drug 
Enforcement Administration credits with helping drive cocaine and 
marijuana smugglers away from The Bahamas and its easy access to 
Florida's coast.

When the program began in 1982, up to 90 per cent of the cocaine 
smuggled into the US from Latin America came into Florida through The 
Bahamas and the Caribbean. But most of the cocaine now moves across 
the US' southwestern border, in part because of the pressure on 
traffickers operating off Florida's coasts.

Since 2000, the program has resulted in seizure of more than 25 tons 
of cocaine, 82 tons of marijuana and the arrests of 786 people, 
according to DEA statistics from April. The Army and Coast Guard 
helicopters operate from three bases in the Bahamas, co-ordinating 
with Bahamian police vessels and DEA agents to interdict drug shipments.

But in a May 15 letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Mr 
Rumsfeld strongly pushed for the US Army to pull out of the program, 
raising questions of a decades-long effort that has resulted in 
hundreds of arrests and the seizure of tons of cocaine and marijuana. 
In the letter, Mr Rumsfeld said it was time to shift the military 
assets elsewhere.

"The Bahamas counter-drug program now competes with resources 
necessary for the war on terrorism and other activities in support of 
our nation's defense, with potential adverse effects on the military 
preparedness of The United States," he said.

Although the Bahamas government released no formal statement on the 
issue, Permanent Secretary in The Ministry of National Security Mark 
Wilson said, "If The United States in the end decides to remove its 
assets in The Bahamas there is nothing we can do."
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman