WASHINGTON, March 13, 2012 — U.S. Southern Command is focused on stopping transnational organized crime and building partners’ capabilities, Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser said here today.
Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Southern Command commander detailed the challenges facing Southcom, which has responsibility for U.S. military relationships in Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Working with other U.S. federal agencies, the command has focused on a concern that permeates the region: transnational organized crime, which the general said “is seriously impacting citizen safety in Central America, especially Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.”
Transnational crime rings “threaten to overwhelm law enforcement capacities, and in an effort to reduce violence and halt the spread of these criminal groups, these countries have deployed their militaries in support of law enforcement organizations,” he said.
Disrupting these narcosyndicates is part of the overall strategy in the region, Fraser said. In the past year, the command developed and implemented Operation Martillo, a plan to disrupt illicit maritime traffic in the departure zones of South America and the arrival zones in Central America, the general said.
Southern Command personnel have helped train partner nations’ military members to support local police, and provides “network analysis of transnational criminal organizations and their operations,” Fraser said.
The command works in the Caribbean under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, which is developing the regional maritime interdiction plan to enhance the capabilities of Caribbean partners, Fraser said.
“In South America, we will sustain our support to Colombia and to Peru as they fight narcoterrorist groups in these countries,” he said.
The command is working to build enduring international and interagency partnerships by promoting cooperation and information-sharing, Fraser said.
Personnel also are working through traditional military channels to strengthen disaster relief capabilities,” he said. “We remain ready to respond should our assistance be requested,” he said.
The command has been busy. In 2011, it 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 countries.
“This sustained engagement is yielding important benefits,” Fraser said. “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.”
This year, Brazil will command the maritime component of the exercise, he said.
Threats are not limited to the homegrown varieties. Iran is very engaged in Latin America, the general said. “They have doubled their number of embassies in the last seven years,” he said. “They now have 11 embassies. They have 40 cultural centers in 17 different countries throughout the region.”
Southern Command officials see the Iranian activity as trying to build cultural awareness and awareness for Iran to circumvent international sanctions against Iran. “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,” he said.
The concern lies with Iran’s connections with Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist groups, both of which have organizations in Latin America, Fraser said. “Those organizations are primarily focused on financial support to organizations back in the Middle East, but they are involved in illicit activity,” he said.
“So that is the connection that we continue to look for as we watch into the future, that connection between the illicit activity and the potential pathway into the United States,” he added.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)