The commander of U.S. Southern Command today discussed issues from countering international threat networks to providing better barracks for service members assigned at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during a Pentagon news conference.
Navy Adm. Kurt W. Tidd said Southcom’s “very eventful year” has been marked by redoubled cooperation with other U.S. government agencies and international partners to detect criminals or extremists.
Tidwell said his command’s No. 1 priority is countering international threat networks.
Working With Partners to Counter Threats
“We’re working closely with our partners across the United States government and the region to address threat networks,” the admiral said. “These threat networks undermine regional stability and security. At Southcom we’ve made countering those threat networks our No.1 focus area.”
Tidd said his command is “examining new capabilities and technologies” to help law enforcement members target the threat networks’ “predatory and menacing activities in the places and in the spaces where those networks are present.”
Tidd spoke about Southcom’s Joint Interagency Task Force South, which according to the command’s website is responsible for detecting and monitoring suspect air and maritime drug activity in the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern Pacific region.
The task force’s headquarters staff includes a Coast Guard two-star general, a Navy one-star general, a senior FBI officer, a senior Customs and Border protection officer, as the senior leadership,” Tidd said.Because criminal and extremist networks reach around the planet, Tidd said, Southcom uses the joint task force to build collaboration with partners well outside its geographic area of operations.
“So, we recognize these networks … are global in nature and they connect and so Joint Interagency Task Force South has been working closely with counterparts over in Europe and in Africa to try to build greater awareness and understanding of where those networks operate, and then to share the information that we are able to develop with the appropriate agencies, whether it’s law enforcement agencies or governments, that have the authority to disrupt those activities,” the admiral said.
Tidd said Southcom’s regional and global engagement is increasing.
“As we look to the future, we will continue to explore new and creative ideas to deepen our dialogue with partners, and to learn from their expertise, from their experiences and to gain their perspectives,” he said.
Responding to reporters’ questions, the admiral covered a range of topics.
Asked about the level of threat Southcom faces from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria forces possibly returning to countries in Central and South America, Tidd said he is watchful, but “the greater danger” is of individuals self-radicalizing in response to ISIS messaging, primarily online.
Lone wolf attacks, such as those carried out in several parts of Europe as well as in California and Florida, “pose a very worrisome threat,” he said, which leaders around the region all realize could happen in any one of their countries.
One reporter asked how conditions in Venezuela affect Southcom. The CIA Factbook lists “current concerns” in Venezuela as including “an increasingly politicized military, rampant violent crime, high inflation and widespread shortages of basic consumer goods, medicine and medical supplies.”
Tidd said the economic situation in Venezuela continues to worsen.
The current state of Venezuela, which worries the entire region, is being watched closely, he said.
Better Barracks for Guantanamo Service Members
Responding to another question, Tidd said he has recommended improvements to U.S. facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“The detention facilities are state-of-the-art, frankly,” he said.
In contrast, he said, the service members who guard Guantanamo detainees are living in deteriorating conditions, housed in what were originally meant to be temporary accommodations.
“They were not designed to withstand hurricane-force winds,” Tidd said. The time has come, he added, to provide better barracks facilities for the men and women for Guantanamo Bay personnel.
(Follow Karen Parrish on Twitter: @dodnewskparrish)