WASHINGTON – U.S. Pacific Command, a new transnational crime unit, will support a multinational crackdown on drug trafficking and other crimes in Micronesia that have the potential to destabilize the region, a senior military official said yesterday.

The Micronesia Regional Transnational Unit opened April 23 in Pohnpei, Micronesia, to promote information sharing critical to stemming the flow of drugs, particularly methamphetamines, throughout Asia and the Pacific, Navy Rear Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, commander of Joint Interagency Task Force West, told American Forces Press Service.

JIATF West, U.S. Pacific Command’s element focused on drug-related threats in the region, provided $460,000 to refurbish a 10,000-square-foot facility and equip it with communications and computer equipment, Zukunft said.

The task force also is training operators at the new facility “to, in simplistic terms, connect the dots to look at emerging trends,” Zukunft said. The Australian National Police will provide a full-time mentor to support the unit for the first year.

Operators in the unit represent not just the Federated States of Micronesia, but also the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, and Palau. “So this unit is really transnational in its composition,” Zukunft said.

The unit is the sixth in the region, all linked to the Australian Federal Police’s Pacific Transnational Crime Coordination Center in Samoa. Other units are in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

Intelligence gathered through the new unit will support Micronesia’s three patrol boats, provided through Australia’s Pacific Patrol Boat Program to monitor against ocean-borne threats. “Absent acute information, it is very cost-ineffective to just send those patrol boats out at random without any advance knowledge of where the threats might exist in the ocean,” Zukunft said. “Information is key.”

Collectively, the network of facilities will build a more proactive criminal intelligence and investigative presence in the Pacific that’s critical in light of criminal elements who operate across borders, Zukunft said.

“What we are trying to do is support a network that will support the multinational sharing of information, since a lot of these transnational crime activities are truly global enterprises,” he said. In addition, many have nearly unlimited resources, which he said “puts law enforcement, obviously, at an extreme disadvantage.”

Zukunft cited a strong correlation between areas with high drug-interdiction rates and those with strong information-sharing protocols that bolster law enforcement capability.

This, in turn, supports good governance that discourages transnational criminals.

“The bad guys typically will look for paths of least resistance, where rule of law is weak,” Zukunft said. “It is an opportunity for them to exploit, … and that’s what we are working to prevent.”

JIATF West has been supporting the U.S. counterdrug effort since 1989, when it was established as Joint Task Force 5 with headquarters in Alameda, Calif. It was redesignated JIATF West in 1994, then moved four years ago to Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii.

There, it is collocated with the PaCom headquarters and focuses on drug-related threats in Asia and the Pacific.

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