More Navy Ships Headed to South, Central America to Stop Drug-Trafficking

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Adm. Craig S. Faller, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, speaks
Adm. Craig S. Faller, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, speaks during the commissioning ceremony of USS Billings (LCS 15), Aug. 3 2019. (U.S. Navy photo/Marianne Guemo)

Chronically underfunded and under-resourced U.S. Southern Command will finally be getting more ships and other assets on a rotational basis to counter high-seas drug trafficking and the growing influence of Russia and China in Latin America, the head of the command said Wednesday.

There will be an "enhanced presence of ships" and an overall increase in forces in the SOUTHCOM area of responsibility, which covers the Caribbean to Antarctica, Adm. Craig Faller said.

At a Pentagon news conference, Faller gave no timeframe for when the additional assets would begin arriving but said, "we're going to be moving out smartly."

As a result of recent discussions between senior leadership and the combatant commanders, "We will see an increase in U.S. military presence in the hemisphere," he said. "This will include an enhanced presence of ships, aircraft and security forces" to reassure allies and to counter a "range of threats, to include narcoterrorism."

Related: Are Cuts on the Table for Southern Command as the Pentagon Kicks Off Review?

Faller declined to say how many more ships would be assigned to the region, and whether they would be Navy or Coast Guard.

"We've been working six to eight ships" to cover the Caribbean and Pacific approaches to the U.S. to counter the drug trade, he said, but the number needed "to cover that zone is much larger."

"You'll see additional forces in the air, on land, on sea, and some maneuver forces ashore" that could include a Security Force Assistance Brigade training unit to work with allies, Faller added.

The decision to bolster SOUTHCOM forces grew out of the combatant commanders' review directed by Defense Secretary Mark Esper to bring forces into better alignment with the National Defense Strategy, which is focused on countering Russia and China.

For years, SOUTHCOM commanders have come to Washington to complain at budget hearings that they were being shortchanged, as opposed to the other combatant commanders.

Faller, who became head of SOUTHCOM in November 2018, has followed suit.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in January, he said, "Over the last five years, we absorbed 25% cuts to our personnel, a 10% reduction to our [military] exercise program, and a steady decline in available assets and forces needed to support our mission."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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