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Pentagon: Central America 'deadliest' non-war zone in the world

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On the other side of the fight, the US spends about $6 billion per year on interdiction and international efforts, according to the Office of National Drug Policy.

But that's only a small part of the actual cost, Winnefeld noted. "The annual direct cost for treatment, prevention, interdiction, and local law enforcement of drug abuse exceeds $52 billion," he explained. Indirect costs, including lost productivity and the impact on the criminal justice system, reach "nearly $181 billion annually."

Scale of the violence

Transnational criminal organizations “conduct illicit trafficking with near-impunity and are causing unprecedented levels of violence,” said Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of US Southern Command, which has responsibility for US military partnerships in Latin American and the Caribbean.

The so-called Northern Triangle of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras “is the deadliest zone in the world outside of active war zones,” Fraser added.

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