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Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta cautioned Western Hemisphere countries on Monday against relying on the military to perform police duties, telling a meeting of the region’s defense ministers that civilian authorities should be strengthened to deal with law enforcement on their own.

Addressing an issue faced by many Latin American countries as they grapple with insurgencies or drug trafficking, Panetta told the officials, “The use of the military to perform civil law enforcement cannot be a long-term solution.”

He acknowledged it is sometimes difficult to tell whether transnational threats to peace and stability should be handled by the military or law enforcement, a debate that has divided the United States as it responded to the September 11 attacks over the past decade.

Read the rest of David Alexander’s Reuters report at The Chicago Tribune.

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Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta cautioned Western Hemisphere countries on Monday against…