The Pentagon is scaling back its role in the "war on drugs" in what amounts to a tacit admission of failure in countering the narcotics trade. Senior military officials claim they must cut back drugs operations to concentrate on the war on terror.

The move is likely to face opposition from politicians. The military currently spends about $1bn on counter-drug operations and training, mainly in Latin America and the Caribbean. The armed forces were required to take on the anti-drug role in 1988 but domestic opponents of the move say such work should be carried out by US customs and the law enforcement agencies.

Now, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, the Pentagon is scaling back its anti-drug work, saying it can no longer afford the same level of commitment.

Andre Hollis, the Pentagon's counter-drugs chief, said that all elements of the military's anti-drug activities are now being examined to see what can be dropped.

"The top priorities now are to defend the homeland and to win the war on terrorism," he said. He also wants to reduce the burden on special forces who currently play a leading anti-narcotics role.

The decision reflects the views of the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who opposed the anti-drugs role of the military well before September 11. In January last year, Mr Rumsfeld told a Senate confirmation hearing that he believed that drugs were "overwhelmingly a demand problem", suggesting that the battle should be fought at home.

Currently the US spends $19bn annually fighting drugs and has spent $75bn in the last five years, but little headway has been made.

The price and availability of cocaine has remained relatively stable for the past decade. A survey earlier this year indicated that in the first year of the Bush administration drugs use had increased among young people although cigarette smoking had declined.

One of the problems the Pentagon faces in scaling down its operations is that Mr Bush has been linking the war on drugs to the war on terrorism.

A current advertising campaign suggests that any young person using drugs could be assisting terrorists by contributing to their funds. Mr Bush's niece, Noelle Bush, was last week jailed for 10 days in Florida for drugs offences.

Pubdate: Mon, 21 Oct 2002
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2002 Guardian Newspapers Limited