SOUTHCOM Works to Stem Narco-Terrorism in the region

SOUTHCOM Works to Stem Narco-Terrorism in the region

By Dialogo
June 15, 2015




The United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) is a partner with law enforcement and militaries from the region to counter transnational organized crime that is threatening the sovereignty and security and facilitates terrorism.

This is part of a truly multinational effort that includes such agreements as the U.S. -Colombia Action Plan on Regional Security. The plan is a framework in which both the U.S. and Colombia provide training or assistance to counter-parts in Central America. Colombia, in particular has plenty of experience in dealing with transnational organized crime and terrorism that can be helpful to nations confronting a common threat.

“Colombia is a terrific example of how sustained U.S. support can help a partner nation gain control of their security situation, strengthen government institutions, eradicate corruption, and bolster their economy,” said SOUTHCOM’s Commander, General John F. Kelly. “Colombia’s turnaround is nothing short of phenomenal, and it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States as together we work to improve regional stability.”

Such collaboration takes on many forms. For instance, nations in the region have significantly ramped up drug interdiction efforts this year with an aim to prevent the transnational criminal organizations or terrorists groups from profiting from illegal drugs.

“We rely heavily on our international partners [across the region],” said Gen. Kelly during the 32nd International Drug Enforcement Conference (IDEC) held in Cartagena June 2-4.

In Central America and the Caribbean, now in its fourth year, Operation MARTILLO has managed to interdict more than 400 metric tons of cocaine, worth $8 billion in potential revenue for transnational crime organizations.

FARC and ELN traffic drugs to finance terrorism


“Drug trafficking is exceedingly profitable and there are structures of the FARC – especially in the borders with Panama, and others [countries] – that represent significant income for the guerrilla leaders,” said retired Colombian Army Colonel Michel Martínez Poinsenet, a national security and defense analyst.

Colombian defense officials estimate that the FARC generates in excess of $3.5 billion annually in drug revenue -- a profit stream the terrorist organization has become increasingly dependent on as other sources dry up. In recent years, for example, security forces have successfully carried out multiple operations against two other avenues of FARC financing: extortion and kidnapping. Cooperative efforts by the Colombian National Army, the National Police, and civilian agencies have reduced kidnappings in Colombia by more than 90 percent since 2000, according to the nation's anti-kidnapping agency.

Consequently, outlaw groups like the FARC and the ELN have increasingly turned to drug trafficking to finance their operations.

“The security forces' pressure on the FARC, starting with Plan Colombia, pushed the terrorist group to modify their financing strategies,” said Néstor Rosanía, Director of the Colombian Center for Security, Defense and International Affairs (CESDAI). Before, the outlaw organization focused on extortion and kidnapping, “but then they shifted to drug trafficking.”

Additionally, the terrorist group has turned to illegal mining and large-scale fuel theft to generate funds to purchase weapons and explosives. “The FARC are again modifying and diversifying their financing streams,” Rosania said. “Natural resources are becoming strategic for these terrorist groups [FARC and ELN]. Today, the FARC is in business with its former enemies. The organized crime gangs are sharing routes and logistics with them, and we are seeing the violent fight for the country’s resources,” Rosanía added.

International cooperation is a key component in the fight against drug trafficking, illegal mining, and oil theft terrorist groups use to fund their operations.

“Colombia taught us that sustained engagement by the United States can make a real and lasting difference,” General Kelly said in a statement to the U.S. Congress in March. “The good news is we know how to win this fight. Colombia taught us that the key to defeating insurgents is the same as defeating criminal networks: a strong, accountable government that protects its citizens, upholds the rule of law, and expands economic opportunity for all.”

Possible ties to Middle Eastern terrorist groups


SOUTHCOM is concerned by the financial and operational overlap among criminal and terrorist networks in the countries of the region and beyond. Although the extent of criminal-terrorist cooperation is unclear, what is apparent is that terrorists and militant organizations tap into the international illicit marketplace to underwrite their criminal activities and obtain arms and funding to conduct operations. Among other things, military authorities are monitoring whether Middle Eastern terrorist groups are seeking to partner with illegal Latin American organizations to generate funds for terrorist attacks.

“The Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah – which has long viewed the region as a potential attack venue against Israeli or other Western targets – has supporters and sympathizers in Lebanese diaspora communities in Latin America, some of whom are involved in lucrative illicit activities like money laundering, and trafficking in counterfeit goods and drugs,” Gen. Kelly said.

If Hezbollah were to seek an alliance with the FARC or the ELN, it would not be the first time an international terrorist group operated in Colombia. The Irish Republican Army, for example, helped train the FARC, particularly in the use of explosive devices, Col. Martínez said.

Though the FARC and the ELN do not share the ideological outlook of Middle Eastern terrorist groups, they could still form an alliance with an organization like Hezbollah. “It could be a different kind of collaboration, such as exchange of military training for weapons,” which could give the FARC and the ELN access to surface to air missiles or drones, said Luis Fernando García Arenas, who works at the Banco de la República and is an expert in asset laundering and terrorism prevention.

Foreign terrorist groups may seek to work with Latin American criminal organizations for pragmatic reasons. “Illegal armed groups such as FARC, ELN, and the criminal gangs have infrastructure, territorial control of certain remote areas, and an injection of immense amounts of money from drug trafficking, which would easily allow their reciprocal collaboration and alliance,” Col. Martínez said.

Hezbollah and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) also pose a threat in Latin America by seeking to influence young people through social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, since “we Colombians are all passion and the youth can easily fall for that,” the analyst said.

Col. Martinez said he is optimistic Colombia's Armed Forces and National Police are “among the best trained in the world," and up to the task of countering any alliance between Middle Eastern terrorist groups and domestic outlaw organizations.



The United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) is a partner with law enforcement and militaries from the region to counter transnational organized crime that is threatening the sovereignty and security and facilitates terrorism.

This is part of a truly multinational effort that includes such agreements as the U.S. -Colombia Action Plan on Regional Security. The plan is a framework in which both the U.S. and Colombia provide training or assistance to counter-parts in Central America. Colombia, in particular has plenty of experience in dealing with transnational organized crime and terrorism that can be helpful to nations confronting a common threat.

“Colombia is a terrific example of how sustained U.S. support can help a partner nation gain control of their security situation, strengthen government institutions, eradicate corruption, and bolster their economy,” said SOUTHCOM’s Commander, General John F. Kelly. “Colombia’s turnaround is nothing short of phenomenal, and it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States as together we work to improve regional stability.”

Such collaboration takes on many forms. For instance, nations in the region have significantly ramped up drug interdiction efforts this year with an aim to prevent the transnational criminal organizations or terrorists groups from profiting from illegal drugs.

“We rely heavily on our international partners [across the region],” said Gen. Kelly during the 32nd International Drug Enforcement Conference (IDEC) held in Cartagena June 2-4.

In Central America and the Caribbean, now in its fourth year, Operation MARTILLO has managed to interdict more than 400 metric tons of cocaine, worth $8 billion in potential revenue for transnational crime organizations.

FARC and ELN traffic drugs to finance terrorism


“Drug trafficking is exceedingly profitable and there are structures of the FARC – especially in the borders with Panama, and others [countries] – that represent significant income for the guerrilla leaders,” said retired Colombian Army Colonel Michel Martínez Poinsenet, a national security and defense analyst.

Colombian defense officials estimate that the FARC generates in excess of $3.5 billion annually in drug revenue -- a profit stream the terrorist organization has become increasingly dependent on as other sources dry up. In recent years, for example, security forces have successfully carried out multiple operations against two other avenues of FARC financing: extortion and kidnapping. Cooperative efforts by the Colombian National Army, the National Police, and civilian agencies have reduced kidnappings in Colombia by more than 90 percent since 2000, according to the nation's anti-kidnapping agency.

Consequently, outlaw groups like the FARC and the ELN have increasingly turned to drug trafficking to finance their operations.

“The security forces' pressure on the FARC, starting with Plan Colombia, pushed the terrorist group to modify their financing strategies,” said Néstor Rosanía, Director of the Colombian Center for Security, Defense and International Affairs (CESDAI). Before, the outlaw organization focused on extortion and kidnapping, “but then they shifted to drug trafficking.”

Additionally, the terrorist group has turned to illegal mining and large-scale fuel theft to generate funds to purchase weapons and explosives. “The FARC are again modifying and diversifying their financing streams,” Rosania said. “Natural resources are becoming strategic for these terrorist groups [FARC and ELN]. Today, the FARC is in business with its former enemies. The organized crime gangs are sharing routes and logistics with them, and we are seeing the violent fight for the country’s resources,” Rosanía added.

International cooperation is a key component in the fight against drug trafficking, illegal mining, and oil theft terrorist groups use to fund their operations.

“Colombia taught us that sustained engagement by the United States can make a real and lasting difference,” General Kelly said in a statement to the U.S. Congress in March. “The good news is we know how to win this fight. Colombia taught us that the key to defeating insurgents is the same as defeating criminal networks: a strong, accountable government that protects its citizens, upholds the rule of law, and expands economic opportunity for all.”

Possible ties to Middle Eastern terrorist groups


SOUTHCOM is concerned by the financial and operational overlap among criminal and terrorist networks in the countries of the region and beyond. Although the extent of criminal-terrorist cooperation is unclear, what is apparent is that terrorists and militant organizations tap into the international illicit marketplace to underwrite their criminal activities and obtain arms and funding to conduct operations. Among other things, military authorities are monitoring whether Middle Eastern terrorist groups are seeking to partner with illegal Latin American organizations to generate funds for terrorist attacks.

“The Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah – which has long viewed the region as a potential attack venue against Israeli or other Western targets – has supporters and sympathizers in Lebanese diaspora communities in Latin America, some of whom are involved in lucrative illicit activities like money laundering, and trafficking in counterfeit goods and drugs,” Gen. Kelly said.

If Hezbollah were to seek an alliance with the FARC or the ELN, it would not be the first time an international terrorist group operated in Colombia. The Irish Republican Army, for example, helped train the FARC, particularly in the use of explosive devices, Col. Martínez said.

Though the FARC and the ELN do not share the ideological outlook of Middle Eastern terrorist groups, they could still form an alliance with an organization like Hezbollah. “It could be a different kind of collaboration, such as exchange of military training for weapons,” which could give the FARC and the ELN access to surface to air missiles or drones, said Luis Fernando García Arenas, who works at the Banco de la República and is an expert in asset laundering and terrorism prevention.

Foreign terrorist groups may seek to work with Latin American criminal organizations for pragmatic reasons. “Illegal armed groups such as FARC, ELN, and the criminal gangs have infrastructure, territorial control of certain remote areas, and an injection of immense amounts of money from drug trafficking, which would easily allow their reciprocal collaboration and alliance,” Col. Martínez said.

Hezbollah and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) also pose a threat in Latin America by seeking to influence young people through social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, since “we Colombians are all passion and the youth can easily fall for that,” the analyst said.

Col. Martinez said he is optimistic Colombia's Armed Forces and National Police are “among the best trained in the world," and up to the task of countering any alliance between Middle Eastern terrorist groups and domestic outlaw organizations.
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