James S. Brady Press Briefing Room Washington D.C. April 1 5:35 P.M. EDT
Thank you very much everybody. Thank you. So, America continues to wage all-out war to defeat the virus - this horrible, horrible virus. You see how terrible it is, especially when you look at the numbers from yesterday. And we explained why we're extending our nationwide guidelines to slow the spread by 30 days.
Together, we have the power to save countless lives. We're attacking the virus on every front with social distancing, economic support for our workers, rapid medical intervention, and very serious innovation, and banning dangerous foreign travel that threatens the health of our people. And we did that early - far earlier than anyone would have thought and way ahead of anybody else.
In this time of need, I know that every American will do their patriotic duty and help us to achieve a total victory. As governments and nations focus on the coronavirus, there's a growing threat that cartels, criminals, terrorists, and other malign actors will try to exploit the situation for their own gain. And we must not let that happen. We will never let that happen.
Today, the United States is launching enhanced counter-narcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere to protect the American people from the deadly scourge of illegal narcotics. We must not let the drug cartels exploit the pandemic to threaten American lives.
In cooperation with the 22 partner nations, U.S. Southern Command will increase surveillance, disruption, and seizures of drug shipments and provide additional support for eradication efforts which are going on right now at a record pace. We're deploying additional Navy destroyers, combat ships, aircraft, and helicopters; Coast Guard cutters; and Air Force surveillance aircraft, doubling our capabilities in the region. Very importantly, our forces are fully equipped with personnel protective equipment, and we've taken additional safety measures to ensure our troops remain healthy.
Secretary Mark Esper, Attorney General Bill Barr, National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien will provide more details. In addition, I'm going to have General Milley, who has done an incredible job in so many ways, say a few words. And also with us: our Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Gilday, who you know - I think you know; and Commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Schultz.
So I'm going to ask Mark to start and then we can go. And after that, we're going to take questions as it pertains to this. And then we'll go onto phase two, which is the virus itself. Okay?
Thank you, please. Mark.
Well, thank you, Mr. President. And good afternoon, everyone. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today as we make this very important announcement. At a time when the nation and the Department of Defense are focused on protecting the American people from the spread of the coronavirus, we also remain vigilant to the many other threats our country faces.
Today, at the President's direction, the Department of Defense, in close cooperation with our interagency partners, began enhanced counter-narcotics operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. This initiative is part of the administration's whole-of-government approach to combating the flow of illicit drugs into the United States and protecting the American people from their scourge.
I want to thank all of our partners in this effort, to include the United States Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Department of Justice, and members of the intelligence community for their tremendous support and cooperation.
To conduct these enhanced operations, the President has directed the deployment of additional ships, aircraft, and security forces to the United States Southern Command Area of Responsibility. Included in this force package are Navy destroyers and littoral combat ships, Coast Guard cutters, P-8 patrol aircraft, and elements of an Army Security Force Assistance Brigade. These additional forces will nearly double our capacity to conduct counter-narcotics operations in the region.
Additionally, 22 partner nations have joined us in this fight, bringing with them a variety of intelligence and operations capabilities needed to defeat these criminal organizations.
Last year alone, United States Southern Command's operations resulted in the seizure of over 280 metric tons of drugs, much of which was designated for shipment to America.
While this was an incredible achievement, there's much more work to be done. Transnational criminal organizations continue to threaten our security by smuggling cocaine, fentanyl, methamphetamines, and other narcotics across our borders. These drug traffickers put our communities - communities at risk and destroy lives. Every year, tens of thousands of Americans die from drug overdose and thousands more suffer the harmful effects of addiction.
Furthermore, corrupt actors, like the illegitimate Maduro regime in Venezuela, rely on the profits derived from the sale of narcotics to maintain their oppressive hold on power. The Venezuelan people continue to suffer tremendously due to Maduro's criminal control over the country.
Drug traffickers are seizing on this lawlessness by increasing their illicit activities. We must do more to prevent these drugs from arriving at our shores. These enhanced counter-narcotics operations that are now underway will further disrupt the flow of illicit drugs to America, deny our adversaries the financial resources they depend on, and build the capacity of our partner nations throughout the region.
I want to thank President Trump for his leadership and support to this critical mission. This is a particularly important time for this operation to begin, as nations around the world shift their focus inward to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, many criminal organizations are attempting to capitalize on this crisis. The enhanced operations we're announcing today will keep the pressure on these criminal groups and protect the American people from the devastation caused by the flow of illegal drugs into our country.
Mr. President, thank you for your leadership as we begin this important operation. While the men and women of the United States military work hard here at home to fight the coronavirus, we continue to take action around the world to defend our great country.
Thank you and I'd like to invite General Milley.
Thank you, Secretary, for those words. And thank you, Mr. President, for your leadership. And I want to publicly thank Admiral Craig Faller, the Commander of the U.S. Southern Command out of Miami, for leading this operation, which is underway effective today; and also Admiral Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations, and Admiral Schultz for their contributions to this from their services. There's thousands of sailors, Coast Guardsmen, soldiers, airmen, Marines involved in this operation.
We came upon some intelligence some time ago that the drug cartels, as a result of COVID-19, were going to try to take advantage of the situation and try to infiltrate additional drugs into our country. As we know, 70,000 Americans die on an average annual basis to drugs. That's unacceptable. We're at war with COVID-19, we're at war with terrorists, and we are at war with the drug cartels as well.
This is the United States military. You will not penetrate this country. You will not get past Jump Street. You're not going to come in here and kill additional Americans. And we will marshal whatever assets are required to prevent your entry into this country to kill Americans.
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