MIAMI -- South Florida is surrounded by water, making it one of the most vulnerable areas for drug traffickers, terrorists and illegal aliens to enter.
NBC 6 has learned that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wants to remove some of the key military assets that currently protect the state.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents, Bahamian police, the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Army all watch the waterways stretching from Miami 500 miles south to the Bahamas.
This year alone, they've confiscated 1,700 pounds of cocaine and 94,000 pounds of marijuana.
But now, Rumsfeld wants to pull the Army from the team.
In a memo, Rumsfeld wrote to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, "I intend to discontinue this support."
Rumsfeld said he would remove Army helicopters from the drug mission -- seven helicopters that the DEA says participate in 50 to 75 percent of the drug busts.
Rumsfeld's letter indicated the resources are needed to fight the war on terrorism instead.
"I couldn't believe it," said Florida Sen. Bill Nelson.
Nelson said the Rumsfeld plan would leave South Florida exposed to more drugs and potentially terrorists.
"It's just been too valuable to stop not only drugs, but people -- illegal aliens trying to sneak into the country, and who knows? Among them might be some terrorists," Nelson said.
When NBC 6's Willard Shepard flew with Army pilots on a drug raid two years ago, they said the helicopters were perfect to cut off the drug runners.
"Of course, the aircraft can go anywhere you need at anytime. It's definitely invaluable," one pilot said.
DEA agents said they are puzzled by the decision because the flights have been a huge success over the years, cutting drug traffic to Florida by 70 percent.
"I don't exactly know how we would compensate yet," said DEA Agent Mark Trouville.
Trouville said if the pressure is not there, it makes economic sense for drug traffickers to return to their old ways. Some island landing strips could be active again and water drops would be easier.
The DEA is trying to figure out what it will do without the Army flights.
"We have to put somebody in there. If not the Army, who?" Trouville said.
Rumsfeld's memo said all the flights will be terminated in just over a year.
NBC 6 also learned that U.S. Attorney General Gonzalez recently sent a letter to Rumsfeld, telling him how important the military assets are in the war against drugs and urging him not to pull them out.