Pubdate: Sat, 06 Feb 2016
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 Times Colonist
Author: David Bly
Page: 6


When coastal-defence vessels HMCS Brandon and HMCS Whitehorse 
returned to CFB Esquimalt in December after participating in an 
anti-drug trafficking operation in the Caribbean and east Pacific 
regions, the Times Colonist published an editorial congratulating the 
sailors for a job well done.

But the editorial also said the work of Canada's armed forces 
wouldn't make much difference in slowing or halting the flow of drugs 
from Central and South America.

Last week, I had a chance to see a different perspective on the 
navy's work. At a briefing at CFB Esquimalt, I learned a lot more 
about what happens when Canadian ships head south. It's not just for 
a jaunt in warmer waters. There's a real war going on, one that 
threatens the stability of countries in that region, as well as the 
quality of life in Canada and elsewhere.

Since 2006, the Royal Canadian Navy and personnel from other branches 
of the armed forces have been part of Operation Caribbe, Canada's 
contribution to the Joint Inter-Agency Task Force, an international, 
U.S.-led anti-drug-trafficking effort.

Brandon and Whitehorse left Esquimalt on Oct. 23, each with 38 crew 
members. Over the next few weeks, they were involved with the U.S. 
Coast Guard in seven seizures totalling nearly 10 tonnes of cocaine, 
as well as substantial amounts of other drugs. In addition, Brandon 
is credited with two other interdictions and Whitehorse with one more.

But those seizures are only one piece of the puzzle.

"It's a bigger story than how many kilos of drugs were seized," said 
Rear Admiral Gilles Couturier, commander of Maritime Forces Pacific.

Profits from the international illicit drug trade are used to buy 
governments, destabilize countries and bribe police and other 
officials, the admiral said. The cartels sell weapons and explosives 
to terrorist groups in the Middle East and elsewhere.

They'll do anything they can to make a profit, including human 
trafficking. They are a threat to law and order not only in the 
Caribbean and East Pacific regions, but throughout the world. The 
fight is far more than a war on drugs.

Cartels' profits from trafficking in narcotics are estimated at $8 
billion US a year. In 2015, seizures by all partners in the joint 
task force took more than $4 billion from that bottom line. Canadian 
military operations were responsible for nearly $1 billion of that total.

Is Canada making a difference? Definitely. The anti-trafficking 
effort is not a mere exercise, not just a goodwill gesture. There's a 
real war going on against enemies totally without scruples or 
conscience, evil cartels with country-sized budgets and no rules.

It's an understatement to say the criminals are well-equipped. With 
all that drug money and today's technologies, they are becoming 
increasingly sophisticated.

One of the ways to move drugs is by "go-fast boats," small, 
streamlined craft that can outrun most military vessels.

If you see a small, slim boat with four 350-horsepower motors 
attached to it, said one of the officers at last week's briefing, you 
know it has only one purpose - to outrun the law.

The same goes for another means of transport - semi-submersibles. 
These boats ride largely under the water, with only a small hatch 
protruding above the surface. They are almost invisible to radar and 
are hard to spot visually. They are not legal in any country, because 
they are built solely to carry drugs.

The movement of narcotics takes place over a continent-sized expanse 
of water, so searching for traffickers in the vast area is a 
needle-in-a-haystack venture, right? Not really, as we were told at 
the Esquimalt briefing - when Canadian forces and their partners 
venture out, "it's a catching expedition, not a fishing expedition."

Intelligence makes the difference. The task force's operations are 
not confined to the water - considerable investigation takes place on the land.

New radar technology used by Canadian forces also provides important 
data to U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Mexican security 
forces regarding movement of narcotics through Mexico's Baja region.

The Canadians' activities are not confined to catching drug 
smugglers. Deployments are also an opportunity for training and 
building international partnerships, as well as humanitarian projects 
conducted in conjunction with each mission.

When we think of global threats, we often look toward the Middle 
East. But there's another war going on closer to home that we can't 
afford to ignore.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom