The U.S. Coast Guard commandant said the Coast Guard is only able to respond to 20 percent of the illegal drug shipments they know about.

"I'm a little bit like David and Goliath. I have a $10 billion budget, and that's for military and retired pay, housing, acquisitions and operating costs. And so I'm trying to take on a $750 billion enterprise with a budget of $10 billion," Adm.  Paul F. Zukunft said at the Navy League's Sea Air Space annual exposition and conference.

He explained that the age of the Coast Guard's ships is forcing its crews to turn around.

"Last year four of my nearly 50-year-old ships that were on their way to support this [drug war] effort had to turn around and ... go into emergency dry-dock," he said. "The No. 1 priority for me on my watch ... is an off-shore patrol cutter."

The off-shore patrol cutter will provide the Coast Guard with a vessel with greater operability out on the open sea, 50 miles out and farther.  The first of what is expected to be a 25-ship fleet is to be procured in fiscal 2017.

The price per ship is expected to be $484 million.

As bad as the drug war has been, it is worsening for the people in the Central and South American countries where products are grown and processed as the "drug traffickers come home to roost."

"Eight out of 10 of the most violent nations in the world are south of our borders," he said. "Honduras is No. 1. At this time last year Honduras had a murder rate of over 90 per 100,000, making it No. 1 in the world, worse than what Iraq was at the height of the insurgency back in 2005."

In the U.S., meanwhile, drug violence and overdoses have cost 450,000 lives since 9/11, he said.

He said another consequence of the violence in Central and South America will be continued attempts by residents seeking to escape those countries to reach the United States.

According to Zukunft, the 68,000 unaccompanied minors who illegally entered the United States last year from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and other countries are essentially refugees from the drug violence, as well as poverty and broken economies.

The situations were desperate enough that parents who could do so paid human traffickers to get their children to the U.S., he said.

"They didn't abandon their children, they abandoned hope in their countries," Zukunft said.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com

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