By Kristina Wong - 07/15/14 06:00 AM EDT
Lawmakers warn President Obama is shortchanging the military by calling it into action at the U.S. border without providing a boost in funding.
“President Barack Obama has already decimated the military with budget cuts and the lack of overall strategy; now he’s asking them to do more,” said Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) in an op-ed published Monday.
Obama last week requested $3.7 billion from Congress to respond to the flow of children crossing the border but that did not include additional funding for the military, which is housing thousands of immigrant children and trying to contain the violent drug trade.
Military officials say there’s a direct link between drug traffickers and the influx of immigrants from Central America, but that they lack the resources they need to combat the problem at the source.
“Everywhere there is drug trafficking, there is associated violence,” said Col. Greg Julian, spokesman for U.S. Southern Command, which oversees the military’s presence in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Julian said that before the defense cuts under sequestration, the U.S. was only able to track a quarter of the drug trade from Latin America. Now the situation is worse, he said.
“Our role is in detection and monitoring with air and maritime platforms, and so with reduced availability of platforms impacts our ability to detect drug runners and traffickers,” he said.
Southcom is responsible for detecting and stopping illicit shipments of drugs, humans and weapons from South America, through Central America and on into Mexico. As of now, Southcom says it has only 5 percent of the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capacity it needs, according to the combatant command.
The budget cuts have also affected the military’s ability to train and equip partner forces that combat illicit drug, human and weapon traffickers in Central America, Julian said.
“Since sequestration, it’s reduced our ability to help our partner nations improve their abilities to [combat the drug trade],” Julian said.
Senate Democrats pushed more resources for Southcom in a 20-point plan they unveiled last month to deal with the border crisis.
“U.S. Southern Command should be appropriately resourced to conduct the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance efforts need to combat criminal activity and narcotics trafficking,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“As the lead federal institution for the detecting and monitoring of aerial and maritime trafficking of illicit drugs to the United States, Southcom must have access to the financial resources, as well as the maritime and aerial assets, it needs to carry out its mission,” it said.
A Senate Armed Services Committee minority staffer said Southcom needs at least 16 more ships with helicopter capability to carry out its mission.
Gen. John F. Kelly, Southcom commander, stresses that the border crossings will continue until the U.S. steps up its fight against drug trafficking.
Earlier this month, Kelly wrote that “there are some in officialdom who argue that not 100 percent of the violence today is due to the drug flow to the U.S., and I agree, but I would say that perhaps 80 percent of it is.”
“It has been the malignant effects of immense drug trafficking through these non-consumer nations that is responsible for accelerating the breakdown in their national institutions of human rights, law enforcement, courts, and eventually their entire society as evidenced today by the flow of children north and out of the conflictive transit zone,” he wrote.
The $3.7 billion in funding requested by the White House would go to the Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and Justice, as well as the State Department.
The administration has asked the Pentagon to house several thousand more children, up from the 3,600 it is currently housing at three military bases, defense officials said Monday.
The Defense Department has created a list of possible facilities to house the overflow of detainees.
“There are several locations throughout the continental United States that the we, the Department, are examining for the possibility of use,” said Pentagon spokesman Col. Steven Warren.