The commander of U.S. Southern Command, Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee March 12 as part of the command’s annual posture statement to Congress. This page provides information, multimedia resources, documents and testimony excerpts.
Screen-grab from Senate Armed Services Committee video of Gen. John Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, testifying March 12, 2015.
WATCH: Gen. Kelly at Senate Armed Services Committee (2 hrs 40 mins)
WATCH: DoD News coverage of Gen. Kelly press briefing (36 mins)
WATCH: DoD News coverage of Gen. Kelly press briefing (58 secs)
Excerpts from Senate Armed Services Committee testimony
Gen. Kelly on Russian activity in Latin America and the Caribbean
“For a number of years, we saw almost no real activity of any kind from the Russians. Just in the last couple of years there's been some long-range bomber missions. They deployed a small task of warships to the Caribbean, made various stops in countries like Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
They're, from my perspective, really a nuisance, but they seem to be ratcheting up their kind of in your face, we can go anywhere we want and we have friends around the globe. We know that they're in discussions not to open bases, but to have, you know agreements to where they can either bring ships to refuel and -- or aircraft to land and refuel.
Gen. Kelly on detention operations at Joint Task Force-Guantanamo
“The detainees are treated very, very, very well. Their medical care is excellent. They're treated humanely with dignity -- all of that. Now, if they cross the line, they're disciplined; they're treated firmly with minimum use of force. And there's a percentage of them down there … that are pretty abusive to my guys and gals down there. I won't go into what splashing is, but it's pretty vile stuff. They'll tell you all about it. Physical assaults.
But at the end of the day, you know, we're the good guys, they're not. We carry out the mission that the president gives us. And all of the human rights groups that go down there give us very, very high marks on how that's done … at the end of the day, it's a very, very important mission to this country. And it's done superbly well by the men and women that are down there.”
Gen. Kelly on Colombians providing guidance to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras
“I've brought the Colombians up to have seminars, to Miami, and invited all of the senior-most officials of the three countries that I'm particularly concerned with -- Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras -- in a day-long seminar as to, "This is where my country, Colombia, was 20 years ago. This is how close we were to being a failed narco-state. These are the decisions we had to make. And oh, by the way, they're exactly the decisions you have to make. You have to redo your tax code. You have to get your own wealthy people investing, instead of investing in Miami in high-end South Beach real estate, to invest in your own country."
These kind of things. And we've done that twice now, focusing the second time on economics. And I'm going to do another one in -- with all three presidents and their teams coming up in Miami to do a higher-level economic development conference. As I say, 95 percent of my efforts are not military. It's economic development.”
Gen. Kelly on any potential terrorist threat in Latin America and the Caribbean
“Islamic extremist … organizations are not very well entrenched in my part of the world. I don't see any direct terrorist threat right now.
But there is a fair amount of activity by both Iran in recruiting, or at least attempts to recruit by other Islamic extremist organizations there. We calculate right now somewhere less than 100, but close to 100, young people that have left the Caribbean region in particular now have gone to Syria to fight for the Islamic extremist organizations.
And of course, these small countries that don't have anything approaching our FBI or any of the law enforcement, they're extremely concerned about them coming back, as we are to our own country, and Western Europe has the same concerns. The difference is these small countries that I'm describing have no real ability to deal with them. And of course, if they come back or when they come back, they can -- they conduct operations in their own countries, or they can simply get on the network, ride up into our country, and do whatever someone tells them to do.”
Gen. Kelly on the trafficking of migrants in Central America
“All of the polling and all the indications are that they'd prefer to stay where their families are, where their culture is, where they're comfortable.
But without better human rights, and that is getting better in these countries, without some access to economic well-being -- and I think that is the key. Without lowering the violence, basically due to, a large degree, to our drug consumption and the countries are, in fact, getting their arms around that. It's controversial, in some respects, how they're doing it.
Gen. Kelly on situation in Venezuela
“It's a sad thing to watch. Two years ago when I took this job, the discussion was how long would it be before it collapses or implodes. I mean, I think we're kind of there. Inflation rates of over 80 percent. There's almost nothing on the shelves that -- that common people can buy. There -- the government there is, to say the least, restricting the free press more and more. Every day, they're arresting opposition leaders.
Of course, they're blaming us for everything from coup planning to this recent move by our president to put sanctions -- not sanctions, but to put restrictions in place. They see that as an attempt to topple the government. They don't need any help toppling their government. I mean, it's just a really, really sad state of affairs to watch.”
Gen. Kelly on the threat of the illicit trafficking network in the region
“This network that Bill [commander of U.S. Northern Command, Navy Adm. William Gortney] and I deal with every day, not to mention the law enforcement folks, is so efficient that if a terrorist or almost anyone wants to get into our country, they just pay the fare. No one checks their passports. No one, you know, they don't go through metal detectors. No one cares why they're coming. They just ride this network.
“…And the way the network stays in place is drug demand -- primarily drug demand in the United States and then the unbelievable profits that come out of that drug demand. Cocaine alone, $85 billion a year in profits from cocaine sales alone in the United States. And of course, that's an unlimited amount of money to either bribe officials in our own country, as well as in Latin America, or to kill people, or have people killed.
And until we really get around to the drug demand issue, there's not an awful lot we're going to be able to do to that network.”
Gen. Kelly on the potential effects of sequestration
“I would tell you in Latin America, in Southern Command, it will be, just simply put, a catastrophe. It will essentially put me out of business. I have very, very little to work with now. We do most of our work partnering small groups of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, even law enforcement that go down, spend short periods of time advising, assisting. Many of these groups, whether it's maintenance, human rights, these kind of things.
I've queried my components -- the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines. Their cuts would range from anywhere between 75 percent, in the case of the Marines maybe about 25 percent. But the point is, I will no longer be able to partner almost at all with the nations that we work with every day.
From a drug flow point of view … we got 158 metric tons of cocaine last year, without violence, before it ever even made it to Central America. I do that with very, very few ships. I know that if sequestrations happen, I will be down to maybe one Coast Guard, maybe two Coast Guard cutters.
That means of the 158 tons I would expect to get this year … if I'm lucky will get 20 tons. And all the rest of it just comes into the United States along this incredibly efficient network.”
Thoughts on Colombia’s successes against terrorists and criminal groups
“They are the model for winning the fight against violent insurgencies and criminal networks. Colombia has shown us that the key to defeating terrorists and criminal groups is by upholding and defending the very values that these groups threaten: freedom, democracy, and the protection of human rights.
Colombia has shown us that security and economic prosperity really do go hand in hand. And at great expense in Colombia -- Colombian blood and Colombian national treasure, they've shown us what the term "national will" really means. In my 30 years in uniform -- over 30 years in uniform, I've never seen a better success story than what I see every day in Colombia.
It's one place I believe we got it right, where our support, coupled with a committed partner, brought a country back from the brink, where our engagement in Latin America made a real and lasting difference that's plain to see. Colombia is now stable, thriving, and taking on greater responsibilities to improve international security not just in Latin America and the Caribbean, but they're looking overseas as well.
In an uncertain and turbulent world, we're lucky to have partners like Colombia. I'd like to thank the committee for its continued support to the Colombian people as they work to achieve a just and lasting peace, which is just about in sight.”
On SOUTHCOM mission and partners
“SOUTHCOM's most important mission is to protect the southern approaches to the United States. We do not and cannot do this mission alone. We work side by side with law enforcement professionals and the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard, DEA, FBI, and the Department of Treasury.
Together, we all defend the U.S. homeland against transnational criminal networks, illicit trafficking, and the potential movement of terrorists WMD into the homeland.”
Thoughts on SOUTHCOM staff
“My folks don't just pay attention to what's going on in this region of the world, they understand it intimately. They care about it and they support it.
They have helped countries in Latin America improve human rights, worked hand in hand with the region to professionalize security and defense forces, and to rebuild institutions. And they've supported our partners as they won back their streets and countries from drug trafficking and criminal networks, much of which is directly attributable to the drug demand in the United States.”