- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Continued cooperation with Mexico to address threats posed by the illicit trafficking of drugs, weapons and cash across the border, along with increased efforts to interdict drugs headed to the U.S., are the key elements of the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s “Comprehensive Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy” released Tuesday.

The updated strategy, according to Director Gil Kerlikowske, coordinates federal, state, local, tribal and international actions to reduce the flow of illicit drugs, cash and weapons across the border.

“This plan will build upon the progress we’ve achieved over the past several years to strengthen our border with Mexico as we work to reduce the demand for drugs in the United States,” Mr. Kerlikowske said.

“Building resilient border communities involves the combined work of every sector of society — from federal, state, local, and tribal authorities working to combat violent transnational criminal organizations to community organizations reaching out to young people to encourage them to make healthy decisions.”

Since 2009, Mr. Kerlikowske said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has provided training in firearms and explosives identification to 1,568 Mexican law enforcement, military and intelligence officials. He said the expansion of weapons-tracking software continues to generate leads and assist both countries in disrupting gun trafficking networks.

In seeking to step up drug interdiction, he said U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which now screens 100 percent of southbound rail shipments for illegal weapons, drugs and cash, has expanded Unmanned Aircraft System surveillance coverage to the entire southwest border and has completed 651 miles of fencing along the key trafficking areas.

Homeland Security has deployed thousands of technology assets, including mobile surveillance units, thermal imaging systems and nonintrusive inspection equipment along the border, Mr. Kerlikowske said, adding that the deployments have “significantly improved situational awareness and CBP’s ability to see what is happening at the border with regard to drug trafficking.”

Mr. Kerlikowske also said the southwest border is being better patrolled than at any other time in history, noting that Homeland Security has increased the number of personnel on the ground from 9,100 Border Patrol agents in 2001 to more than 21,000 today. Since 2009, he said, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has deployed a quarter of its operational personnel to the border region, doubled the number of officers dedicated to identify, disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations, and more than tripled deployments by Border Liaison Officers who assist cooperation between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement authorities.

He also said ICE, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Marshals Service have dedicated “unprecedented numbers” of agents to the border and have “significantly enhanced” law enforcement partnerships with state, local and tribal law enforcement as part of a multilayered effort to target, disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations.

From 2009 to 2012, he said Homeland Security seized 71 percent more cash, 39 percent more drugs, and 189 percent more weapons along the border in the Southwest compared to 2005 to 2008.

• Jerry Seper can be reached at jseper@washingtontimes.com.

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