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Washington – The drug war has grown to rival the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as the scale of violence, spending, and weapons in Mexico and Central America have made it one of the most dangerous areas in the world, say US military officials.
US drug users contribute roughly $40 billion a year to Latin American cartels, Admiral James Winnefeld, head of the US Northern Command, in charge of US homeland security, added in testimony. The amount of US money that goes to Mexican cartels is so considerable that “if you ranked it among the world’s militaries, it would come into the top ten.”
On the other side of the fight, the US spends about $6 billion per year on interdiction and international efforts, according to the Office of National Drug Policy.
But that's only a small part of the actual cost, Winnefeld noted. "The annual direct cost for treatment, prevention, interdiction, and local law enforcement of drug abuse exceeds $52 billion," he explained. Indirect costs, including lost productivity and the impact on the criminal justice system, reach "nearly $181 billion annually."
The so-called Northern Triangle of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras “is the deadliest zone in the world outside of active war zones,” Fraser added.
In the past four years, as many police and soldiers have died in Mexico alone as in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Collateral damage is also comparable: since 2006, nearly 35,000 Mexicans were killed in drug-related violence, compared to 21,000 Afghan civilians killed in the war during that same period of time.
Pentagon officials acknowledge this tension, but point out that US troops have learned some irregular warfare techniques in Iraq and Afghanistan that they are anxious to pass along to their Mexican counterparts. US military forces have already shared lessons in “How do you do planning, how do you do special operations, and how you carefully observe human rights," Winnefeld says.