The commander of U.S. Southern Command, Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, testified before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees March 19 and 20 as part of the command’s annual posture statement to Congress. This page provides information, multimedia resources, documents and testimony excerpts.
Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, holds a news conference with reporters at the Pentagon, March 20, 2013, following testimony before Congress. (DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)
Resources | Downloads
Documents submitted to Congress
SOUTHCOM 2013 Posture Statement SASC | SOUTHCOM 2013 Posture Statement HASC
Bio: Gen. John F. Kelly | Senate Armed Services Committee | House Armed Services Committee
House Armed Services Committee testimony | Pentagon Press Briefing
Kelly Warns of Potential Crime-Terror Nexus in Latin America (Armed Forces Press Service)
Southcom Chief Warns Budget Issues Could Affect National Security (Armed Forces Press Service)
Southcom Chief: Iran Working to Expand Influence in Latin America (Armed Forces Press Service)
Excerpts from House Armed Services Committee testimony, March 20
On greatest threat to United States from the region
"U.S. Southern Command is traditionally, at least in the last 10 or 15 years, been kind of the economy of force command of all the geographical CINC-doms. So, for a long time, we've operated down in Latin America or the Caribbean without a lot of assets. The good news story is there is not, from a military point of view, there's not a great number of military threats down there, at least towards the United States.
But I am the beginning of the away game, if you will, for [U.S. Northern Command commander] Chuck Jacoby's home game. If he's worrying about things that are coming across the Mexican border or coming through a port somewhere in the United States, I think we've probably failed him and the American people in keeping it away. And I do think we fail the American people every day because there's so much that gets through that we can't take off the playing field, if you will.
The first thing I would -- what's the greatest threat down there, it's really, to me, it's really the network that we deal with. Obviously, you think about drugs initially, but the network we deal with is incredibly efficient. And it's plugged into a worldwide network of crime. And anything that anyone wants to put on that network, wherever it is in the world, if that person, if that individual, if that enemy of ours wants to get it into the United States, there's a pretty good chance he or she can do it.
So the network is incredibly concerning to me because, as I say, almost anything can get on that network. You know, we watch obviously the drugs that come up from Central America and from Mexico. A lot of it is taken off the market, so to speak, on the way in, but an awful lot of it does get in. We watch individuals come into the network from as far away as the Middle East.
But again, the network is incredibly efficient. It certainly rivals anything that Federal Express can do. It has 1,200 hubs that we know of in the United States, all controlled by cartels. They move hundreds and hundreds of tons of drugs, as an example, along that network.”
On the whole-of-government approach to security in the region
“What we do in the south and SOUTHCOM is a very, very whole-of-government, interagency, not just DoD. In my headquarters we have dozens of the same kind of individuals that represent the entire U.S. government -- DEA, FBI, Border Patrol -- all of the agencies. They're all heroes. They all work as hard as I do to try to serve the nation and keep these malign influences and objects from coming into the United States.”
Sequestration effects on counter-illicit trafficking mission
• “Because of sequestration, if I lose all of the ships I'm expected to lose -- and ships are critical, as is airborne ISR -- if I lose those assets, if they go to zero, and there are some that are predicting they will go to zero, then all of that cocaine, all of it, will get ashore. And more, I would predict [would] get ashore and be on the streets of New York and Boston and Portland, Maine, and all the rest very, very quickly.
• Essentially, with the exception of what our partners can do for us, particularly, as I say, the heroic efforts on the Honduran part and the Guatemalans and others -- but they take very little off the market -- all of that drug will get into the United States.”
• “If I don't have assets -- which I don't -- all I can do is watch the drugs go by."
• “So Navy ops in my area of operations will essentially stop -- go to zero, I believe. With a little luck, the United States Coast Guard -- you know, the other arrows in this fight -- with a little luck we might see a Coast Guard cutter down there. But we're gonna lose airborne ISR in the counter-drug fight. We'll lose the Navy assets.”
On success of Colombia’s efforts to fight cartels, insurgent groups
“Fifteen, 17 years ago when I worked up here as the Marine liaison, I can remember the debates about Colombia, and some of you will remember those debates. Colombia was considered at the time to be a failed state. You couldn't move outside of your home in Colombia without being at risk of being killed. I mean, the country was run by the Medellin and the Cali cartels.
Here we are a few years ago with a considerable investment of U.S. funds. I mean, it's in the billions of dollars. But now, we have a country that is not only shoulder-to-shoulder with us fighting our drug problem down there, they took 200 tons of cocaine off the market before it ever left their country and got into places like Venezuela or started the trip up to, to Central America -- 200 tons.
The biggest IED (improvised explosive device) casualty problem in the world outside of Afghanistan is in Colombia because it's how the cartels protect the factories in the jungle that make the cocaine, or how the growers, the cartels, the FARC, how they protect the grower -- the orchards, if you will.
You can go to Medellin now and go out to dinner and there is no violence.
In Bogota where you used to be able to… hear the bombs going off at night from the FARC -- and now all of that is pushed well away from the population centers. So the violence has gone down dramatically in the last 10, 12 years.”
Excerpts from Senate Armed Services Committee testimony, March 19
On cocaine production and trafficking in the region
“There's a great deal of cocaine produced, and all of that cocaine comes to the United States primarily from Colombia. And I have to give them a shout out. They have done a tremendous job working shoulder-to-shoulder with us. They have tremendous appreciation for what the United States government and its people have done for them over the years to defend against the traffickers and the insurgents that they've dealt with.
They've fallen, if you will, to the number-three producers of cocaine in the world. Number one and number two are Peru and Bolivia. The vast majority -- in fact, I would say 100-percent of that cocaine -- goes into Brazil. Brazil's now the number two consumer of cocaine and also is the traffic path, if you will, to Africa and then further to Europe.”
On China’s influence in the region
“The Chinese, first and foremost, are a very, very active in Latin America commercially. When they want to buy something they buy it in very, very large numbers, whether it's soybeans in the far south of the southern cone, oil from Venezuela -- I mean, they're in there in a big way buying up commodities, primarily. They also are very good at building things like ports and running things like ports. So they're very involved in the running of the Panama Canal, as an example, as a commercial interest. I don't personally see a threat there.
Obviously, they want to sell their military hardware to any nation that'll buy it. You know the frustration that our friends and partners around the world have with our military sales. It's very complicated, takes a long, long, long time. I would offer that many of these countries, certainly that I deal with, just get tired of waiting. They'd rather buy American stuff because it's better. It's better maintained. It comes with better support packages. But they get tired of waiting for it, so they go elsewhere.
We already mentioned the training. They have training programs, where they'll pay for officers, particularly, to go to China and do a year in their staff colleges. So they're trying in a big way.
What's the ultimate goal? I think the ultimate goal is, certainly, commercially. They're huge, powerful and they're going to penetrate any market they could penetrate. That's not a bad thing, necessarily. It's a good thing for most of the nations that I'm talking about.
I don't see it as a huge threat, but as we back away or it's harder and harder for [partner nations] to buy our military equipment, they go to other, easier-to-deal-with countries, and China is certainly one of them.”
On Iranian influence in the region
“Who knows where they're going? It's not a huge threat now. But I think anywhere they go, particularly when they go to a region that is completely different than they are culturally, religiously and all the rest, I think they bear watching.”
On the effects of sequestration on SOUTHCOM’s mission
“On the engagement piece, I've had to cancel, probably, 50-percent of my engagements. These are small-term engagements. These are training exercises that might involve 12 or 15 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, or something like that.
There's a sense, however, as we go down this road -- and I certainly can talk to the Latin American countries -- there's a sense that they have that we are withdrawing. Partnership is important, but it's got to be a two-way street. They've got to believe we'll stay engaged. I don't think -- increasingly, I don't think they believe that, which changes a large part of the strategic equation, I think, for our country.”
The effects of sequestration on military personnel
“I've got time in the ranks. I was a former enlisted Marine. I admittedly looked at a lot of these things through a sergeant's eyes, and I'm proud of that.
They're wondering what the heck's going on. Less than six or eight months ago they were, "Thank you for your service," and, "You guys are the greatest. And you've fought the wars." They're confused now because it's now dollars and cents.
And I think there's a sense that we've begun to turn our backs on them.”
SOUTHCOM’s role in regional engagement
“We focus on building relationships with regional militaries to enhance the defense of the United States and the security of the region. Human rights play a very, very big role in everything we do… from my engagements with regional leaders to our joint training teams that are working alongside partner nation forces in Central America, South America and in the Caribbean to the courses of instruction at WINSEC and Fort Benning and in the Inter-American Defense College here in Washington.
Militaries in the region have made enormous strides in terms of professionalization and respect for civilian authority and human rights, thanks to a large measure to the role of the U.S. military over the years and our continued engagement.”