USA/Southcom Region

Progress Made in South­com Region, Chal­lenges Remain, Admi­ral Says

By Don­na Miles
Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice

WASHINGTON, March 17, 2009 — The top U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cer for Latin Amer­i­ca and the Caribbean today report­ed pos­i­tive devel­op­ments in the region over the past year, from increased mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary coop­er­a­tion to progress in con­fronting drug-relat­ed ter­ror­ism to a dra­mat­ic hostage res­cue by the Colom­bian mil­i­tary. Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis told the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee he’s con­fi­dent these trends will con­tin­ue in 2009, with new mile­stones to be reached in strength­en­ing secu­ri­ty coop­er­a­tion with part­ner nations.

Stavridis cit­ed major accom­plish­ments dur­ing 2008, includ­ing the safe return and repa­tri­a­tion of three U.S. defense con­trac­tors held hostage for five and a half years in Colom­bia by the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia, or FARC.

The Colom­bian mil­i­tary exe­cut­ed a “very dar­ing, auda­cious raid” that Stavridis called “a real exam­ple of the suc­cess in five and a half years of build­ing part­ner­ship capac­i­ty.”

“So I think Colom­bia is on the right track,” he told the sen­a­tors.

Mean­while, Stavridis point­ed to a “robust year” of mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary exer­cis­es that he said are build­ing capac­i­ty with­in region­al mil­i­taries and the coop­er­a­tion need­ed to deal with cross-bor­der threats. For exam­ple, this year’s Pana­max exer­cise, with 22 coun­tries involved, con­sti­tut­ed the world’s largest mil­i­tary train­ing exer­cise in terms of par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Oth­er exer­cis­es that focus on every­thing from spe­cial oper­a­tions to dis­as­ter relief are grow­ing in scale, too, increas­ing capa­bil­i­ty in the region. Stavridis called this “very robust sched­ule of mil-to-mil con­tacts … a big part of what we need to do in this region to main­tain this pos­i­tive mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary con­nec­tion wher­ev­er we can.”

One of Southcom’s most grat­i­fy­ing mis­sions last year, Con­tin­u­ing Promise, dis­patched the USS Kearsarge and USS Box­er to the region to pro­vide med­ical assis­tance. As the teams con­duct­ed 200,000 patient treat­ments ashore, they demon­strat­ed U.S. com­pas­sion and com­pe­tence, Stavridis said.

The mis­sion is “a way we can con­nect with this region” while at the same time pro­vid­ing “great train­ing” to U.S. forces, he said.

While empha­siz­ing strides made, Stavridis cit­ed the prob­lem of the nar­cotics flow through the region, and the increased use of semi-sub­mersible water­craft to trans­port them.

“Last year we were able to stop 230 tons of cocaine,” he said, but he empha­sized that the chal­lenge is not just on the sup­ply side, but also on the demand side in the Unit­ed States. Work­ing togeth­er with part­ners in Mex­i­co and Cen­tral Amer­i­ca, with the help of track­ing and inter­cep­tion equip­ment and train­ing pro­vid­ed through the U.S. Meri­da Ini­tia­tive, is an impor­tant step in address­ing this prob­lem, he said.

South­com is work­ing to foil the pro­lif­er­a­tion of semi-sub­mersibles — sub­ma­rine-like water­craft built in the Andean Ridge jun­gles that are dif­fi­cult to track as they trans­port as much as 7 tons of cocaine — the admi­ral told the com­mit­tee. “We’re focus­ing a lot of resources on inter­dict­ing those, and work­ing with our part­ners to do so,” he said.

Stavridis remind­ed the com­mit­tee of the impor­tance of Latin Amer­i­ca and the Caribbean to U.S. secu­ri­ty and U.S. inter­ests.

“What hap­pens south of us will influ­ence what hap­pens here in our own nation,” he said.

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