FNS: Joint Task Force Six: Military Support for the War on Drugs
- Joint Task Force Six: Military Support for the War on Drugs
by Greg Bloom, FNS Editor
10/1/2001 11:40:57 AM Pacific Daylight Time
From: frontera@... (Frontera)
Joint Task Force Six (JTF-6) was established in 1989 to integrate Department of Defense support for local, state and federal law enforcement agencies involved in anti-drug operations. Until 1995, JTF-6's area of operation was the four border states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. In February, 1995, the organization was given responsibility for the entire continental United States, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In 1997, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were transferred to the US Southern Command. JTF-6 provides four main types of anti-drug support: operational, training, intelligence and engineering.
Requirements to Receive JTF-6 Support Before JTF-6 can act on a law enforcement request for support, a number of criteria must be met and the request for aid must be reviewed at a number of levels. According to JTF-6 Public Affairs Officer Armando Carrasco, all requests for support must be related to a counter-drug action and must offer a training opportunity to the military unit that volunteers for the mission. All successful requests must make sure that the military does not break the Posse Comitatus Act which states that no member of the military may be involved in detentions, searches, arrests or seizures. JTF-6 is also prohibited from participating in immigration-related actions and cannot work in Mexico or Canada. Also, JTF-6 is not allowed to collect intelligence on US citizens. If an operation involves private property, the military must have the owner's permission to use the land. The rules for the use of force must also be made clear for each operation. Finally, JTF-6 funding can only be used for counter-drug support.
When a law enforcement agency decides that it wants JTF-6 support, it submits its request to Operation Alliance (OPALL), a multi-agency, law-enforcement group that reviews and prioritizes all requests for JTF-6 assistance. If the request meets the above mentioned criteria then it is passed on to JTF-6 which again checks for an anti-drug connection and completes an internal legal review of the request. Finally, if JTF-6 is satisfied that a request for aid meets all of its criteria, it begins looking for a military unit that can meet the law enforcement agency's particular needs. Because JTF-6 has no tasking authority, military units must volunteer to do what JTF-6 asks of them. This means that in times of conflict JTF-6 may have less ability to provide help to law enforcement. Indeed, 1991 was the year in the last decade when JTF-6 ran the least number of missions due to the involvement of so many military units in Operation Desert Storm.
Areas of Operation
While JTF-6 is presented in the news media as a group that works on the US-Mexico border, its primary obligation is to requests from law enforcement agencies that are located within High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs). This means that JTF-6 gets many of its requests from rural areas and parks in states like Colorado and California where much of the nation's marijuana is grown. Carrasco points out that 50% of marijuana consumed in the US is grown in the US.
Types of Support
In the fiscal year 2000, the largest category of JTF-6 support was in the area of intelligence. There were approximately 180 intelligence missions that year. According to Carrasco, assistance with intelligence usually takes the form of translation services, intelligence analysis and the development of law enforcement intelligence systems. Other types of assistance include intelligence preparation of the battlefield, vulnerability assessments, special studies and intelligence threat assessment and targeting training. Carrasco says that intelligence missions may only last a total of 179 days and no intelligence material goes back to the Department of Defense with soldiers when they leave domestic law enforcement. What they do in law enforcement, stays in law enforcement, says Carrasco.
The second most common type of assistance to law enforcement agencies is training assistance provided by mobile teams. In the fiscal year 2000, JTF-6 completed nearly 150 training missions by providing training teams that instructed law enforcement personnel in such areas as basic marksmanship, field tactical police operations, investigation, narco-terrorism personal protection, special reaction team training, interview and interrogation, K-9 training and first aid, language training and more. JTF-6 states that everyone benefits from training opportunities because trainers get to practice training people and law enforcement derives benefits from military-supplied services like language and K-9 instruction.
With approximately 30 missions, operational assistance represented less than 10% of total missions in the year 2000. One common form of JTF-6 operational support comes in the form of unmanned aerial observation flights, according to Carrasco. Law enforcement agencies use these flights to watch for, or monitor, drug-related activity in various areas throughout the country. Other types of operational assistance include various forms of aviation reconnaissance, air transportation and evacuation, dive operations and communications.
Ever since the much publicized, May 20, 1997 killing of eighteen-year old Esequiel Hernandez by a US Marine participating in a JTF-6 operation in Redford, TX, JTF-6 has been allowed to do ground reconnaissance and observation and/or listening post set up only with Secretary of Defense approval. Since 1997, operational support missions have fallen from an average of about 110 per year to about 30 or 40 per year.
Since 1996, JTF-6 has participated in approximately 25 yearly engineering missions. These missions include such things as building or improving Border Patrol roads, building fences or other barriers along the border, and constructing shooting ranges and anti-drug bases like one built recently for the NYPD where police can practice raiding buildings. Besides the mission and legal review that goes into every JTF-6 effort, Carrasco also says that the group has a staff environmentalist who makes sure that all JTF-6 operations meet US environmental requirements.
Carrasco cites as an example of a successful JTF-6 engineering mission, a road improvement effort in the Van Horn Mountains of Western Texas. The work involved improving a 42-mile long, Border Patrol road that used to take BP agents 10-12 hours to travel in good weather. After two periods of JTF-6 sponsored work, in which concrete forms used as road surfacing were airlifted in by helicopters, the road could be traveled in 3 to 4 hours. Carrasco notes that the Border Patrol only had to pay for materials and JTF-6 and the military units provided labor, equipment and transportation to the work site. Border Patrol benefited from the project because its vehicles can more easily and safely travel the Van Horn area. The military benefited from the mission because active Marines, Army engineers and reservists received real-world training in a desert setting. The Air Force also benefited from the project because it flew in the required workforce and equipment.
Overall, in fiscal year 2000, in its support of law enforcement agencies, JTF-6 trained 2,696 law enforcement agents, constructed or improved 38 miles of roads, put in 7 miles of border fencing and barriers, and translated 4,813 pages of material. Since its beginning JTF-6 has completed over 5,000 missions for 430 law enforcement agencies.
Criticism of JTF-6
In conversation, Brigadier General Joe Prasek, commander of JTF-6 since September, 2000, is quick to bring up what he sees as unfair criticism of JTF-6 by groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Southwest Alliance to Resist Militarization (SWARM). Both organizations accuse JTF-6 of damaging fragile desert ecosystems along the border. SWARM also accuses JTF-6 of engaging in a low intensity conflict against the occupants of the border region and of militarizing civilian law enforcement organizations.
Such criticism is troubling to Prasek and Carrasco because they see JTF-6 as an organization that complies with all US laws through the help of Operation Alliance's request screening and the work of staff environmentalists and lawyers. Both Carrasco and Prasek said that training missions only give law-enforcement officers skills that allow them to complete their anti-drug tasks more effectively and safely. Carrasco refuted the suggestion that military training has a militarizing effect on law enforcement and reasoned that training is good if it helps keep officers safe.
"We're paramilitary already"
Captain Tim Gallegos of the Las Vegas, New Mexico police sees JTF-6 human rights and environmental issues in the same way as Prasek and Carrasco asking, "Don't we want what's safest for us and the community?"
Gallegos and the Las Vegas Police Department have received JTF-6 engineering and construction support over the past two summers to help in the building of a firing range. The lead agency in a 22 agency anti-drug taskforce, the Las Vegas police department had been practicing firearm use at an old Army base from the early 1940's. Now, with JTF-6 help, the department has a better, safer shooting facility.
The new area has 3 firing ranges--one for handguns, one for short rifle and shotguns and one for long rifle. The facility has control towers, shelters and an 800 foot dividing wall. In the third and final stage of construction, JTF-6 will help the Las Vegas police put in a classroom at the site and install electrical connections to the facility. Gallegos says that having the classroom will make training easier and will allow hunter safety classes to take place there as well.
In the summer of the year 2000, 70 members of the Army came to work on the new firing range and in summer 2001, 70 Marines came to work at the site. The Las Vegas police only had to provide material for the project and JTF-6 and the military units took care of the rest of the work and expense. Without JTF-6 help Gallegos said the police department would never have been able to afford the facility. "Impossible," he said noting that the service members worked twelve hours a day, six days a week and were housed at a nearby National Guard facility at no expense to the Las Vegas police.
Gallegos, who said his agency just "took down a $10 million marijuana growing operation," is grateful for JTF-6 support and his words speak volumes to any person or organization that implies JTF-6 is militarizing law enforcement. "They don't try and militarize us. We're paramilitary already," Gallegos said.
Toward the Future While in past years the House of Representatives has passed legislation which would give the military expanded powers on the nation's borders, the Senate has always stopped such bills. Now, in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attack on the US, new legislation is moving through the US Congress. What this could mean for JTF-6, civilian law enforcement, the military in general and populations and ecosystems along the US border remains to be seen.
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