Gen. John F. Kelly, the chief of the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, gave a surprisingly candid testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday. He said that because of budget cuts and inadequate funding he's only able to stop about 26 percent of illegal drugs that head from Latin America into the United States.
"I simply sit and watch it go by," he said.
However, Kelly didn't shy away from some domestic policy either. He suggested that efforts to legalize marijuana in some states bewilders Latin American leaders who think it's hypocritical.
That particular discussion was spurred by committee member John McCain who asked both Kelly and his NORCOM counterpart Charles H. Jacoby Jr. about what affects the legalization of marijuana in some U.S. states has had on the international drug trade.
"In my part of the world, Sir, they look at us in disbelief," said Kelly. "We've been leaning on these countries a long time. The impact that drugs -- particularly in Central American countries -- the impact that drugs have had, our drug consumption, our drug demand on these countries has had pose frankly an existential threat to their existence."
"They're in disbelief when they hear us talking about things like legalization, particularly when we still encourage them to stay shoulder to shoulder with us in the drug fight in their part of the world," he said. " 'Hypocrite' sometimes works its way into the conversation."
"Very interesting," replied McCain before thanking both generals.
No other members on the committee seemed particularly interested in the issue.
The rest of Kelly's testimony mainly focused on his need for more funding. He opened with prepared statements citing the effects of the shutdown had on his partners in federal agencies and even quipped he wasn't sure how moral had stayed so high in those agencies.
Kelly candidly admitted that he doesn't have enough support to truly fight the war on drugs.
"Because of asset shortfalls, we're unable to get after 74 percent of suspected maritime drug smuggling," he said.
"Without assets, certain things will happen," he said. "Much larger amounts of drugs will flow up from Latin America. We'll do less and less engagement with our friends and partners in the region."
He claims that of the five command centers his seems to get the least support and priority. SOUTHCOM is responsible for military operations in the Caribbean and Central and South America.
Kelly had hoped that more resources could be steered his way as America's efforts in Afghanistan continue to wind down, but he realizes that's not likely to happen.
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He said he was only able to intercept 132 metric tons of cocaine in 2013 fiscal year; down about 15 percent from 2012.
In particular, Kelly asked for more ships that could transport helicopters, and added that he only has about 5 percent of the intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance equipment he would need to truly stem the flow of illegal drugs into America.
Send your story tips to the author, Kyle Munzenrieder.