Excerpts from Senate Armed Services Committee testimony, March 13:
SOUTHCOM’s focus on strengthening partnerships in the region
"U.S. Southern Command is working to build such partnerships by enhancing cooperation and promoting information sharing with regional and interagency organizations. In addition, we are strengthening our partnerships through traditional military engagement programs and activities with our counterparts across Latin America. We work with them to strengthen humanitarian assistance in disaster relief capacities, and we remain ready to respond should our assistance be requested.
Last year we conducted hundreds of training and educational events, 12 major multinational exercises with partner nations in the hemisphere, and 56 medical readiness training exercises in 13 different countries.
This sustained engagement is yielding important benefits
Last year for the first time, Colombia assumed the land component commander role during PANAMAX, our annual multinational exercise focused on supporting the defense of the Panama Canal. And this year Brazil will also join Colombia and they will assume the roles of the maritime component commander, an important step in strengthening and expanding our partnerships throughout the hemisphere."
Views on Iranian activity in the region
"Iran is very engaged in the region. They have doubled their number of embassies in the last seven years. They now have 11 embassies. They have 40 cultural centers in 17 different countries throughout the region. We see their activity very much as trying to build cultural awareness and awareness for Iran, trying to circumvent international sanctions that are on their economy and on their activities. And they are seeing an opportunity with some of the anti-U.S. focused countries within the region as a method on being able to do that.
Our concern remains their traditional connections with Hezbollah and Hamas, who do have organizations in Latin America. Those organizations are primarily focused on financial support to organizations back in the Middle East, but they are involved in illicit activity.
And so that is the connection that we continue to look for as we watch in the future, that connection between the illicit activity and the potential pathway into the United States."
Traffickers' use of semi & fully submersible vessels and efforts to counter them
"For the first time this year, we saw semi-submersible vessels in the Caribbean, and we had not seen them prior to this year. So the use of those vessels continues to expand within the transnational criminal organizations.
As I look at the problem, it's not just a maritime problem because they're built in the jungles in Colombia. They acquire those assets and they're commercially available assets, and they arrive somewhere off the coast of Central America and they transfer their goods there.
It's a very expensive proposition to try and find them, follow them, detect them as they work through the maritime environment. It requires a lot of assets to be able to do that. We're working the entire connection. And I think, and our focus is really on where they're built and where they arrive, to address the problem with trying to detect them and then intercept them when we do find them in the maritime environment."
On the annual PANAMAX exercise
"We on an annual basis conduct an exercise called PANAMAX which is an international exercise -- 18 nations participated last year -- that supports the government of Panama in defense of the Panama Canal. We will continue those efforts in the future as we look at that expansion [of the Panama Canal] as it happens within Panama. I don't see a direct change to the threat or to the concerns as we look into the future, but our PANAMAX exercise will remain critical to that effort."
Views of National Guard’s State Partnership Program
"I'm a strong supporter of the state partnership program. One of the values that the state partnership program brings is the fact that Guard members stay in their units longer than active duty personnel do. And that provides an opportunity to build an enduring relationship with that country that they're working.
We have state partners with 22 different countries within the region. And it is a critical long-term partnership building capacity that we see. New Hampshire, working with El Salvador, who is a great partner of the United States also, is a very, very close connection and really helps build their routine tactical capacity, their budgeting capacity -- just a good relationship back and forth between the two partners.
The other benefit we gain from the state partners is because of their civilian jobs, they have some opportunities to share experience that goes beyond military experience when that can be authorized."
On SOUTHCOM’s posture to respond to natural disasters in the region
"We remain very deliberately prepared. The hurricane season is obviously our number one concern because that happens on an annual basis and we couldn't predict that. We have a deliberate plan that we've developed post-Haiti exercise, revised our disaster response plan. It's a graduated plan depending on what the needs of any request would be.
We continue to exercise that on an annual basis. As we look at the hurricane season, we prepare for that not only within our headquarters but with our partners in the region. And we work directly, associated with Haiti, with MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] and the government of Haiti to be able to respond should a hurricane impact them during the hurricane season."
Excerpts from House Armed Services Committee testimony, March 6:
On the threat of transnational criminal organizations in the region
“We see that it is a network that extends from the production areas of the northern part of South America, through the transit zone in Central America and Mexico, and into the demand region in the United States and other parts of the region. We're seeing that now some of that supply of cocaine -- and I'll talk specifically cocaine -- is moving through South America, as well as Central America. But the violence continues to increase in Central America, and that's where and why we are focusing there. Last year the U.N. estimated or said that Honduras has the highest violence of any country in the world. And we see that as a direct influence of transnational organized crime, but there are gangs and there are other factors that also enter into that.”
On SOUTHCOM’s role in countering transnational criminal organizations
“To address this growing threat, last year the president implemented a strategy to combat transnational organized crime. In support of this strategy, United States Southern Command developed and implemented Operation Martillo, a focused plan to disrupt illicit maritime traffic through the departure zones of South America and the arrival zones into Central America. In Central America, we've helped train our partner militaries to effectively support their law enforcement partners.
Southern Command also supports U.S. interagency and international efforts to provide network analysis of transnational criminal organizations and their operations. In the Caribbean under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, we are developing a regional partner interdiction plan to enhance the capabilities of our Caribbean partners. And in South America, we will sustain our support to Colombia and Peru as they fight narco-terrorist groups in their countries."
Views on Colombian efforts to combat narco-terrorist organizations
“Plan Colombia has been very successful. It is a whole-of-government approach by the government of Colombia to address the concern with the FARC. They have reduced the FARC from 18,000 down to 9,000, but the FARC are still an element that needs to be addressed.
As a result of continued pressure over 10 years, they have -- the FARC have adjusted their strategy. And in conjunction with that, President Santos directed that their strategy change as well. They are working across the government. They have put a deliberate effort into adjusting that strategy. We provided support to them in a meaningful way as we helped them work through that design, and we're continuing to support them as they implement this. They are going to establish additional joint task forces that include not only military, but law enforcement. And they will have as well task forces in a maritime environment, as well as the air environment, and put a very deliberate focus on reducing the capability of the FARC to continue their efforts.”
Views on China’s and Russia’s influence in the region
“I find that China's engagement is very much focused on diplomatic and economic; very engaged in commodities purchases and agreements. But we see them also increasing their engagement militarily. They have offered weapons for sale, primarily some light attack aircraft, as well as -- as air defense radars and some other equipment. And they do provide military training opportunities for officers from -- from various countries in the region to be educated within region.
I do not see a military threat in the region. I see them very much in the region very much engaged economically and diplomatically with China, like they would with any other key partner.
With Russia, I see their focus primarily on diplomatic engagement as well; a lot from the economic standpoint in a military focus. But we've also seen recent engagement in the counter-drug effort. Their counter-drug czar was just recently in the region making agreements for training and helping equipment governments to address that concern also; again, primarily diplomatic, with commercial sales for military weapon.”
On possible impacts of sequestration
“It would impact us across the board, because as you well know better than I, it has a targeted reduction in every program element of our commands. And so it would impact our ability to support communications with our military groups and embassies around the region. It would impact our ability to conduct as well as support our military partners in the effort against transnational organized crime. It will impact our ability to continue to train and build the relationships with our partners. In each case, it will have a deliberate impact.”