Southcom ‘Part of Solution’ to Drug Crime
By Dialogo March 09, 2012
The U.S. Southern Command’s central mission — disrupting transnational trafficking in drugs, weapons, cash and people in Central and South America –- is too large and complex for even a U.S. combatant command to tackle alone, Southcom’s commander said on March 7 in a testimony to the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee.
Air Force Gen. Douglas M. Fraser said that in line with the president’s strategy targeting transnational organized crime, Southcom works with other U.S. government agencies and international partners’ military and law enforcement agencies to track, capture and prosecute people who have made several countries in the Americas the most violent in the world.
Success in that effort rests on the command’s other primary mission of building international and interagency partnership and cooperation, the general told reporters.
Southcom is “only one part of the solution” to transnational organized crime and its effects in Central and South America, Fraser noted. Both the United States and the international community are intent on the issue, he added.
“We’re working to pull together all the various agencies, capabilities, and [the] international community to improve our ability to coordinate and focus our efforts to address this larger problem,” he said.
While transnational organized crime is not a traditional military threat, Fraser said, the violence and corruption stemming from the global drug trade in countries south of the United States has, in many cases, destroyed law enforcement and judicial processes.
Fraser said he doesn’t see either an internal or external conventional military threat in the region, but many countries are using their militaries to augment too-small or corrupt police forces.
Transnational crime’s greatest impact is in Central America, he said. Honduras in 2011 led the world in per capita murders, with 86 per 100,000 people, Fraser noted. El Salvador’s murder rate is 66 per 100,000, he added, while Guatemala’s overall rate is 41 per 100,000, with higher peaks in parts of the country.
Those three countries do use their military forces in crime-fighting efforts, Fraser said. He noted Honduras has committed half of its forces to the effort, and Guatemala has employed forces in 60-day sieges against high-crime areas.
“[Southcom’s] efforts along those lines are to help support the militaries with training, with some equipping — to help them work with law enforcement as well as address the traffic as it enters Central America,” he added.
Fraser said Southcom’s forces pursue a more conventional military mission along the region’s coastlines, where for 20 years they have spotted and monitored air- and sea-based drug movement from northern South America through the Caribbean to various destinations — most commonly, now, in Central America.
Southcom still conducts training and disaster-preparedness exercises and other traditional military-to-military engagements with partner forces in the region, Fraser said, but international and U.S. efforts are mostly aimed at disrupting drug trade.
For example, Operation “Martillo”, or Hammer, is focused on air and maritime surveillance of the Caribbean and eastern Pacific using Southcom assets including Navy and Coast Guard ships and Navy, Air Force and U.S. Customs and Border Protection aircraft, Fraser noted.
Operation Hammer has in 45 days netted 3.5 metric tons of cocaine and 10 smuggling vessels, but the effort’s overall aim is to use persistent surveillance to force traffickers to move their shipping routes into international waters, the general said.