Biden officials urge sending US troops to South American jungle to tackle human smuggling

Each year, thousands of migrants make daring attempts to traverse the treacherous Darien Gap, frequently depending on smugglers to navigate the unforgiving terrain.

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Senior officials within the Biden administration are advocating for the deployment of U.S. troops to the treacherous region between Colombia and Panama, known as the Darien Gap. Their objective is to assist local authorities in combating drug smuggling, human trafficking, and unauthorized migration. The Darien Gap, comprised of dense jungles, rainforests, rivers, and rugged mountains, poses significant risks but serves as a crucial passage for individuals traveling from South America to the United States.

Every year, thousands of migrants attempt to cross from Colombia to Panama, often relying on smugglers to navigate the challenging terrain. While the U.S. military currently maintains a Security Force Assistance Brigade operating in both countries to provide guidance to local forces, administration officials are now urging the expansion of this training mission. This would involve deploying troops to the Darien Gap to offer guidance to Colombian and Panamanian forces on strategies to disrupt the flow of people and illicit drugs in the area.

The proposed training initiative would primarily focus on enhancing border security, countering human smuggling, developing effective planning and logistics, conducting counternarcotics operations, and potentially targeting individuals involved in human trafficking. Additionally, U.S. military personnel could provide support in constructing an operational center for the National Border Service.

According to officials, Liz Sherwood-Randall, President Biden’s homeland security adviser, is advocating for increased U.S. troop involvement in the Darien Gap. Army Gen. Laura Richardson, the commander of U.S. Southern Command, recently visited the area to assess the situation firsthand.

During her visit, Richardson met with Colombian officials, although no specific details were provided regarding the number or timeline for the deployment of U.S. troops to the Darien region. The Colombian National Police expect the arrival of additional U.S. troops, who would collaborate with local forces, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Investigations, and Customs and Border Protection, all of which already operate in the region.

The primary objective is to explore strategies for Colombia and Panama to curb migration, potentially involving the participation of Customs and Border Protection agents. Currently, the most probable course of action entails relocating a small number of existing U.S. troops, possibly as few as 10, to the Darien Gap to provide advisory support. However, certain officials within the Biden administration are advocating for a larger troop presence.

In April, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Gen. Richardson traveled to Panama and signed a trilateral agreement with Panama and Colombia, launching a 60-day campaign to address the humanitarian crisis in the Darien Gap. The campaign aims to halt the illicit movement of people and goods through both land and maritime routes.

An administration official clarified that the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security are offering increased support to Panama and Colombia within their existing authorities as part of the 60-Day Darien Surge Campaign. This support includes personnel focused on law enforcement training, planning, coordination, and information-sharing. However, it is essential to note that U.S. personnel are not directly engaged in counter-smuggling operations.

The official emphasized that the deployment of Defense Department personnel for enforcement activities is not under consideration.

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