Green Berets’ Value is Proven in War on Drugs

U.S. Army

Special Forces Green Beret soldiers from each of the Army’s seven Special Forces Groups stand silent watch during the wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of President John F. Kennedy, Nov. 17, 2011, at Arlington National Cemetery.

Article Highlights

  • The United States would be irresponsible not to play a role in supporting stability in our own backyard

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  • U.S. military training missions are an economical way to prepare our allies to tackle corruption and crime problems on their own

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  • If a neighboring nation collapsed because of pressure from drug cartels, America could be expected to help pick up the pieces

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America’s involvement in Colombia stands as a positive example of how military forces and aid can secure American interests and improve the lives of local citizens. Twenty years ago, drug cartels ruled much of Colombia with an iron fist. Drug enforcers paid off judges, the police and local officials as part of a coordinated campaign of terror and intimidation. Individuals who stood up to the cartels often faced brutal execution.

Under Plan Colombia, American aid and advisers, mostly special operations forces, helped Colombian security forces fight FARC rebels and their drug trafficking allies. Colombia was able to recover and today stands as one of Latin America’s most influential success stories.

Today, instability in Latin America -- especially when viewed through the context of the growing jihadist influence in the region -- is a legitimate threat to American interests. As the hemisphere’s dominant power, the United States would be irresponsible not to play a role in supporting stability in our own backyard.

That does not mean we must send divisions to Latin America. Indeed, quite the opposite. America’s military actions in Latin American and in counternarcotics operations should be thought of as ancillary and in support of law enforcement. Drug trafficking is a symptom of the larger problem of weak governance. Additionally, revenue from the drug trade often fuels organized crime, more corruption and even terrorism.

Special operations forces can play an important role in support of a stable and democratic Latin America. But they are only one tool of many available to the American mission in host countries. It is the job of the ambassador to use as many capabilities as possible to ensure stability -- from law enforcement to institutions and authority, foreign aid and military training.

Ultimately, U.S. military training missions are an economical way to promote security and good governance and to support our friends and allies and prepare them to tackle these problems on their own, as well as help other countries in the region. If a neighboring nation collapsed because of pressure from drug cartels, America could be expected to help pick up the pieces. This would come at a far greater cost -- both human and financial -- than sending a small advisory mission today.

Mackenzie Eaglen is a resident fellow at AEI.

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