Drug Control:

Revised Drug Interdiction Approach Is Needed in Mexico

NSIAD-93-152: Published: May 10, 1993. Publicly Released: May 20, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Northern Border Response Force (NBRF) program, focusing on: (1) the program's status; (2) program implementation problems; and (3) future plans to expand drug interdiction activities in Mexico and neighboring Latin American countries.

GAO found that: (1) although the NBRF program has experienced initial success in seizing large amounts of cocaine and assets, the program has not affected the majority of drug trafficking through Mexico due to an inability to effectively combine helicopters and self-contained mobile operating bases; (2) NBRF cannot accurately assess its effect on drug trafficking into the United States because it lacks evaluation standards; (3) although NBRF is designed to patrol the Mexico-Texas border, its area of interdiction responsibility has increased throughout Mexico because drug traffickers have adapted and altered their drug trafficking patterns; (4) NBRF has not established any of the required seven mobile helicopter bases, tested the operational feasibility of self-contained mobile operating sites, or made full use of its helicopter fleet; (5) NBRF implementation delays and setbacks due to prolonged transfer agreement negotiations, complexities in the defense supply system, and the precedence of other U.S. priorities have resulted in Mexico receiving only 60 percent of its authorized program assistance; (6) NBRF operational problems have included limited use of its assets, communication problems, aerial coverage gaps, and shortages of qualified pilots and mechanics; (7) the United States and Mexico have planned to expand NBRF to include land and maritime interdiction capabilities, but total expansion costs are not known; and (8) the Drug Enforcement Administration has planned to expand its interdiction activities to include Guatemala and other Latin American countries, but individual country sovereignty and communication problems need to be addressed.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In late 1994, representatives of the Department of State and the newly elected Mexican government reevaluated the need to renew the soon-to-expire lease of U.S. helicopters to the government of Mexico. Both parties agreed that the lease should be renewed and an additional 12 helicopters should be provided. This decision was made as air traffic into Mexico is increasing and interdiction efforts are being expanded to address the overland and maritime movement of drugs. The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City has drafted a comprehensive drug interdiction strategy to coordinate and direct the activities of all U.S. government agencies in Mexico.

    Recommendation: Since the UH-1H helicopters the United States provided to NBRF have not been used for interdiction as originally intended and the mobile operating base concept does not appear to be suited to combat the changing drug trafficker tactics in Mexico, the Secretary of State should reevaluate the need to continue to lease the fleet of helicopters to the government of Mexico. In making this decision, the Secretary should consider whether the helicopters could be more effectively used in other areas or countries for drug interdiction purposes.

    Agency Affected: Department of State


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