Plan to use 10,000 soldiers in border drug war dropped Disagreement on Hill over role of Pentagon

October 29, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- An ambitious proposal to enlist 10,000 U.S. soldiers in the war against drugs on the Southwest border has died a quiet death on Capitol Hill, the victim of continuing disagreement over whether the Pentagon should have any role in fighting the Mexican narcotic cartels.

The proposal, which twice won overwhelming support in the House this summer, was never embraced by the Senate. Ultimately, it was stricken late last week from a conference committee report agreed to by Senate and House negotiators on the 1998 defense authorization bill.

Yesterday, the House passed the bill without the amendment to vastly increase the U.S. military presence on the border.

Undeterred, the proposal's chief sponsor vowed to try again to place the might of the U.S. military behind this country's crime-fighting apparatus on the border. "The cartels have too much power," Democratic Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. of Ohio said in an interview. "There's just too much money and firepower down there."

Critics charged that Traficant's proposal would set dangerous precedents in the divisions of responsibility between the Pentagon and law enforcement officials.

That was one reason Senate conferees prevailed in getting the amendment dropped from the defense measure, said John DeCrosta, a spokesman for the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Traficant's proposal came at a time of heightened emotions over the support that the armed forces already had been providing local and federal law enforcement agencies in protecting the 2,000-mile border from Texas to California.

In May, a U.S. Marine corporal inadvertently killed a teen-age Texas goat herder, leading to the Pentagon's decision to temporarily stop using ground troops in anti-drug missions until a full review of the 8-year-old program could be examined.

Pub Date: 10/29/97

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