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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Trump’s chief of staff may have the chops to fight killer gangs

White House chief of staff John Kelly, seen

White House chief of staff John Kelly, seen here on April 9. Credit: AP / Susan Walsh

President Donald Trump is due on Long Island Wednesday for another high-visibility performance regarding the MS-13 gang scourge.

But with Trump on live display, one person who may be a genuine driving force in the effort often gets eclipsed — White House chief of staff John Kelly.

As a four-star general, Kelly developed an interest in MS-13 and other such organizations while in charge of the U.S. Southern Command from 2012 to 2016.

In that job he dealt with the political and military realities of Latin America, including the Colombians’ peace treaty ending a 52-year Marxist rebellion.

More than a year ago, while serving as Trump’s homeland security secretary, Kelly gave a talk about security threats at George Washington University in which he emphasized the role of transnational criminal organizations.

“They are utterly without laws, conscience or respect for human life,” Kelly said of these groups. “They take the form of drug cartels or international gangs like MS-13, who share their business dealings and violent practices.”

For this administration, the issue’s overlap with illegal immigration helps drive it as a public priority.

Transnational gangs are an organized-crime problem in Central America as well.

The Kelly factor has not gone entirely unnoticed. He attended the last such Long Island event in February, along with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

“He understands what is going on with MS-13,” then-Suffolk sheriff Vincent DeMarco said in August — after an earlier Trump appearance regarding the gang’s crimes.

“He understands what is going on with the heroin trade and human traffic and smuggling.”

Law-enforcement efforts have been launched before, without the repeated personal imprints of the president. Whether the current round of resources and attention has a greater impact remains to be seen.

The U.S. presence of the group Mara Salvatrucha harks back to Los Angeles in the early 1980s.

Over the years there have been several FBI operations and law-enforcement roundups, some carried out under conspiracy statutes, crippling certain MS-13 cells.

Earlier this year, the exact details and results of renewed official efforts and roundups were elusive.

Perhaps Trump’s subordinates will share more data on its current actions against the group — if only to assuage any suspicions that all this stagecraft amounts to an extended photo op.

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