Southern Command Targets Transnational Organized Crime

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)