US Navy commander: Trinidad and Tobago to help stop Venezuelan cartels

Former Chief of Defence Staff Rear Admiral Hayden Pritchard, left presents a gift to US Naval Admiral Craig Faller during Faller's visit to Trinidad in 2018.

Former Chief of Defence Staff Rear Admiral Hayden Pritchard, left presents a gift to US Naval Admiral Craig Faller during Faller's visit to Trinidad in 2018. PHOTO COURTESY TT DEFENCE FORCE - Shane Superville

The US will be collaborating with regional allies in anti-drug trafficking operations aimed at intercepting the outflow of drugs from Venezuela, according to US naval commander Craig Faller.

In early April, US President Donald Trump announced that US warships would be sent near the coast of Venezuela as part of counter-narcotic operations.

This decision came days after US Attorney General William Barr said a US$15 million reward was being offered for information that would lead to the arrest of Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, who has been charged with narco-terrorism.

Faller spoke to Sunday Newsday and other regional reporters from his office in Ohio, in a phone conference on Friday.

He said there has been some co-operation with Caribbean and Latin American countries that have partnered with the US's efforts to combat drug trafficking.

Responding to Sunday Newsday's question on the possible impact the US military presence could have on TT, Faller said the operation was not focused on Maduro specifically, but geared towards fighting the export of illegal drugs. He said the volume of drug shipments had increased by 50 per cent in recent years.

Recalling his 2018 meeting with former chief of defence staff Rear Admiral Hayden Pritchard, Faller said he was convinced TT was committed to fighting drug trafficking alongside the US.

"We have strong relations with the TT Defence Force.

"My first visit as a commander of the US Southern Command was to TT, where the Chief of Defence Staff at the time, Admiral Hayden Pritchard, co-hosted our Caribbean security conference and we talked about the threat that transnational criminal organisations pose to the stability of the Caribbean and the hemisphere.

"This operation is enhanced to indicate we have been conducting counter-narcotics operations to dismantle, disrupt, defeat the scourge of transnational criminal organisations and key to that is working with our good partners like TT."

On TT's role in the upcoming drug interdiction operation, Faller said multi-national security units like the US Southern Command were being assisted by local officials who work to gather intelligence that can be used to intercept drug shipments.

On claims that the operation was the start to military moves against Venezuela to remove Maduro, Faller said the main objective was to disrupt shipments of drugs leaving Venezuela.

He said he would be transparent with TT on the purpose of the US in the region.

"We do that through organisations like the Joint Inter Agency Task Force South, where your nation has a representative to share intelligence, and I like to think of this as applying the right level of forces, intelligence-gathering and assets to make a difference for all of us.

"And we have been and will continue to be very transparent with our partners about what our intentions are and we are in this together."

Asked what evidence that led to the decision to deploy military forces to the region, Faller said he could not disclose top-secret information, but was convinced there was sufficient grounds to authorise such a response.

Faller also accused "external actors" of being involved with the Venezuelan government in transshipping illegal drugs to the US.

He said he could not answer questions relating to policies on entering Venezuela through a military campaign.

But he said, "We have been committed to going after this threat. The difference is we have recommitted ourselves to this operation. That means more ships, more helicopters, more planes, more intelligence and greater partner involvement.

"The narco-trafficking operations are broad and we are aiming to neutralise, disrupt and ultimately destroy these networks.

"This operation is not specifically aimed at Maduro, but he is complicit and involved so he (Maduro) should look around at who his friends are because they are very few."

Faller said he could not divulge the resources being sent to the region but he was confident it was adequate.

The US has also reported some successes during the early stages of the operation, he said, as collaborations with regional allies like Colombia and Costa Rica had led to the seizure of over 4.5 metric tonnes of drugs in one instance and 1,700 kilogrammes in another instance.

Sunday Newsday also spoke to National Security Minister Stuart Young who said TT has had a long and beneficial history of working with the US in counter-trafficking exercises.

"We work with the UK, Canada, EU and USA in the fight against illegal narcotics being shipped to North America, the UK and Europe. We will continue to do so."


"US Navy commander: Trinidad and Tobago to help stop Venezuelan cartels"

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