Dempsey Highlights Value of Southcom, Africom Missions

BOGOTA, Colom­bia, March 27, 2012 — The chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff arrived here yes­ter­day for the first part of a two-nation trip to view U.S. South­ern Command’s mis­sion in South Amer­i­ca through the prism of the nation’s new defense strat­e­gy.

Although he has nev­er served in the South­ern Hemi­sphere, Army Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey told reporters trav­el­ing with him, he finds South Amer­i­ca and Africa fas­ci­nat­ing.

South­com and U.S. Africa Com­mand “do a lot of heavy lift­ing with a min­i­mum of resources,” the chair­man said.

“I per­son­al­ly believe that with a mod­est increase in our invest­ment – I don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean in mon­ey or equip­ment; it might be a mod­est invest­ment in part­ner­ing and leader devel­op­ment — we can reap expo­nen­tial devel­op­ments,” he said. “I want to prove or dis­prove that the­o­ry.”

The gen­er­al said he looks on the trip to Colom­bia and Brazil as a learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty, espe­cial­ly when viewed through the lens of the new U.S. defense strat­e­gy, which places greater empha­sis on part­ner­ing with oth­er nations. “This the­ater and Africa Com­mand are the two the­aters where this strat­e­gy has already pro­gressed the far­thest,” he said.

Colom­bia has been a val­ued part­ner for years, and Brazil has a key role to play in the region in the future, Dempsey said. Both coun­tries are con­cerned about the rise of transna­tion­al orga­nized crime net­works, he added, and while that’s not men­tioned specif­i­cal­ly in the new U.S. strat­e­gy, it also con­cerns him.

“The issues are dif­fer­ent geo­graph­i­cal­ly, eco­nom­i­cal­ly, eth­ni­cal­ly, reli­gious­ly, trib­al­ly, but at the end of the day, as secu­ri­ty issues, they man­i­fest them­selves sim­i­lar­ly,” he said.

The gen­er­al told reporters his pres­ence in South Amer­i­ca sig­nals his pri­or­i­ties, and that he wants to come back to the region fre­quent­ly.

South Amer­i­can transna­tion­al crim­i­nal orga­ni­za­tions have a net­work of financiers, logis­ti­cians, sci­en­tists and pro­duc­ers who now work togeth­er. “It’s no longer [now-dead drug king­pin] Pablo Esco­bar run­ning this whole thing as the sin­gle leader,” Dempsey said. “Now there are lit­er­al­ly net­works of groups that syn­di­cate and … form a sup­ply chain.

“I sug­gest and will con­tin­ue to sug­gest that if you are going to beat a net­work, you’ve got to have a net­work,” he added.

The Unit­ed States has a net­work with­in itself, the chair­man not­ed. The Drug Enforce­ment Agency, the FBI, the Coast Guard, and the State, Defense and Home­land Secu­ri­ty depart­ments are net­worked with the Colom­bians, the Brazil­ians, the Guatemalans, the Hon­durans and oth­ers. “We’re doing a lot of this already,” he said. “The ques­tion is, ‘Can we do more?’ ”

The U.S. attacks on the al-Qai­da net­work pro­vide lessons for defeat­ing transna­tion­al crim­i­nal orga­ni­za­tions, Dempsey told reporters. “We learned how to defeat al-Qai­da by attack­ing the net­work along its entire length,” he said.

But he point­ed out that with al-Qai­da, the Unit­ed States did most of the work. The ques­tion now, he said, is whether the Unit­ed States can use the same par­a­digm for how to attack a net­work, but not do it alone.

While the net­work in South and Cen­tral Amer­i­ca is – at its heart – pri­mar­i­ly a law enforce­ment respon­si­bil­i­ty, Dempsey said, he sees real prob­lems with these crim­i­nal orga­ni­za­tions pos­si­bly branch­ing out. He is wor­ried that ter­ror­ist nations or orga­ni­za­tions could use the net­work that now smug­gles drugs, guns and peo­ple to smug­gle ter­ror­ists, weapons or weapons of mass destruc­tion into the Unit­ed States.

“The time to pres­sure this net­work is now, and we are,” he said. “The ques­tion is ‘Are we pres­sur­ing it enough, and are there things we can still do with mod­est invest­ment to increase the pres­sure?’ ”

The U.S. mil­i­tary will always be in sup­port in the South­com area, Dempsey said, but the mil­i­tary brings some com­pe­ten­cies that com­ple­ment those of oth­er nations and of civil­ian agen­cies with­in the U.S. gov­ern­ment.

“What we bring is orga­ni­za­tion­al struc­tures, com­mand and con­trol archi­tec­tures, [and intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance] capa­bil­i­ties like no oth­er in the world,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)