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Pentagon: Central America 'deadliest' non-war zone in the world

Thousands die each year in a struggle between the US 'War on Drugs' and the drug cartels, who are financed and armed by American narcotics consumers, Pentagon officials testified last week.

By Anna MulrineStaff writer / April 11, 2011

People protest against violence, on April 6 in Mexico City. The continuing tide of drug-related killings in Mexico has drawn thousands of protesters into the streets of Mexico's capital and several other cities. The sign reads in Spanish "Not one more of our young men!"

Alexandre Meneghini / AP

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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.

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Even as the Pentagon struggles with how best to help the Mexican government, US drug users are funding the cartels, senior US commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee, enabling narcotics gangs to build mini-submarines that they use to transport millions of dollars worth of drugs with every trip.

American consumers of narcotics drive the drug trade, and US weapons arm narco-criminals, says Andres Martinez, a fellow with the New America Foundation think tank.

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."

Scale of the violence

Transnational criminal organizations “conduct illicit trafficking with near-impunity and are causing unprecedented levels of violence,” said Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of US Southern Command, which has responsibility for US military partnerships in Latin American and the Caribbean.

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