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Pentagon Opposes Wider Drug War Role

September 17, 1986|JAMES GERSTENZANG | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon, fighting a congressional proposal to increase domestic use of the military in the war against drugs, said Tuesday that it has been unable to keep narcotics worth an estimated $100 billion from flowing into the United States in 1986.

At the same time, the Defense Department announced that it is extending for an unspecified period the mission of about 150 U.S. soldiers sent to Bolivia to help that nation destroy cocaine-processing factories. The troops were sent there July 14 and were expected to remain there for two months.

Although the military has been able to stop $30 billion in drug smuggling this year, Assistant Defense Secretary Chapman Cox said in a news conference that trying to intercept and search all private planes and ships entering the nation is "an impossible task." Rather, the Pentagon has argued, U.S. troops should help foreign governments eradicate drug-producing crops.

Administration Opposes Idea

Cox offered few details of any unsuccessful U.S. interdiction efforts. His remarks were part of a Reagan Administration campaign to head off a House-approved plan to order expanded military operations toward stopping the flow of drugs into the country. The Senate is expected to address the issue before it adjourns in October.

A drug bill passed last week by the House includes an amendment ordering President Reagan to use the armed forces to halt, within 45 days, the use of aircraft and ships to smuggle drugs into the United States.

Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger told reporters in an interview Monday that using the military in a police role is "pretty absurd.

"This is a nice expression of something that we all hope could happen, but to put it in mandatory language ordering the President to do it is, I think, not very useful," he said, according to a Pentagon transcript.

The legislation envisions a greatly expanded military participation in anti-drug efforts, particularly by the Navy and Air Force, whose ships, planes and helicopters would be used to spot smugglers approaching U.S. borders. The military units would then follow the suspected smugglers to ports or landing strips.

Spending Stepped Up

Cox said that Pentagon spending for anti-drug operations had been increased, from about $5 million in 1982 to about $40 million this year, and the money was being spent on operational expenses such as fuel and manpower. The figure does not include the value of equipment, such as communications gear and helicopters lent to the U.S. Customs Service, or use of law enforcement agencies in efforts to intercept narcotics.

When asked what was achieved for the price of $40 million, Cox replied: "We've interdicted over $30 billion worth of illicit drugs in 1986." He added, however, that "estimates are that over $100 billion worth of drugs were entering this country at the same time we were intercepting the others."

"It's become clear that attacking the supply part of the problem has not been sufficiently effective," Cox said.

Among military ranks, however, drug use has dropped 67% since 1981, the Pentagon official said. He added that the Pentagon has been considering adjusting the standards of the tests it uses to detect drug use, to a lower "tolerance level" that would spot prior drug use over a period longer than the 30-day term examined in current tests.

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