USA — Southcom Monitors Trafficking, Prepares for Disasters

WASHINGTON — Ille­gal traf­fick­ing remains the biggest chal­lenge for U.S. mil­i­tary forces in Cen­tral and South Amer­i­ca as they work to bal­ance such non­tra­di­tion­al chal­lenges with the con­stant threat of nat­ur­al dis­as­ters there, the com­man­der of U.S. South­ern Com­mand said yes­ter­day.

Ser­vice­mem­bers and their civil­ian part­ners have to keep ahead of the tac­tics of those involved in ille­gal traf­fick­ing – of drugs, weapons, exot­ic ani­mals and human beings – that under­mine secu­ri­ty and sta­bil­i­ty in the region, and threat­en the Unit­ed States, Air Force Gen. Dou­glas Fras­er said at a mil­i­tary strat­e­gy forum at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies here.

South­com, with head­quar­ters in Mia­mi, pro­vides con­tin­gency plan­ning, oper­a­tions and secu­ri­ty for the region cov­er­ing Cen­tral and South Amer­i­ca, and the Caribbean except for U.S. ter­ri­to­ries. The area is strate­gi­cal­ly impor­tant to the Unit­ed States, now the fifth-largest Span­ish-speak­ing nation with one-third of its pop­u­la­tion expect­ed to be of Lati­no ori­gin by 2015, Fras­er said.

The Unit­ed States has a “great and endur­ing rela­tion­ship” with Latin Amer­i­ca, Fras­er said, but often does­n’t give enough atten­tion to its south­ern neigh­bors. “A lot of times, we in the U.S. look east to west and not north-south in own hemi­sphere,” he said.

The gen­er­al said he sees no threat of con­ven­tion­al war­fare in Cen­tral and South Amer­i­ca, either toward the Unit­ed States or with­in its own nations. But non­tra­di­tion­al chal­lenges such as traf­fick­ing remain high, he added.

Wide­spread pover­ty and dis­pro­por­tion­ate wealth dri­ve crime and cor­rup­tion, Fras­er said, lead­ing to multi­bil­lion-dol­lar traf­fick­ing net­works adept at chang­ing routes and tac­tics. For exam­ple, he said, the Unit­ed States has worked with Colom­bian author­i­ties to con­front drug traf­fick­ers. How­ev­er, he added, the crim­i­nals have moved their oper­a­tions to oth­er areas, such as north to Mex­i­co or through the south­east water­ways to Africa.

“As we’ve had suc­cess in Colom­bia, they’ve gone to oth­er places,” Fras­er said. “We need to con­tin­ue to keep press­ing on all sides of the bal­loon.”

South­com has dis­rupt­ed or obtained about 100 met­ric tons of cocaine so far this year, but that’s only half of what it seized com­pared to this time last year, Fras­er said. “We don’t know why,” he said. “There are changes going on in the traf­fick­ing world, and we’re try­ing to catch up. We need look at [ille­gal traf­fick­ing] as enter­prise and treat it as an enter­prise.”

At least 60 per­cent of ille­gal drugs flow­ing out of Cen­tral and South Amer­i­ca and the Caribbean end up in the Unit­ed States, Fras­er said, adding that U.S. offi­cials need to address the issue of Amer­i­can demand for illic­it drugs.

Urban gangs are plen­ti­ful in Southcom’s area of respon­si­bil­i­ty, Fras­er said, and there is evi­dence of finan­cial sup­port there for Mid­dle East­ern-based ter­ror­ist groups Hezbol­lah and Hamas that have tak­en root in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca.

At the same time that South­com is work­ing such non­tra­di­tion­al chal­lenges, it also has to stay pre­pared to deal with Moth­er Nature, Fras­er said.

“I was not expect­ing to respond to an earth­quake in Haiti,” he said, refer­ring to the Jan. 12 earth­quake that dev­as­tat­ed the Port-au-Prince area and caused 22,000 U.S.

ser­vice­mem­bers to deploy there through June for relief oper­a­tions.

“I don’t know what next cri­sis will be,” Fras­er said. “We have to remain pre­pared.”

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

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