U.S. Joins Northern Triangle Security Dialogue Hosted by Colombia
By Jose Ruiz, U.S. Southern Command Public Affairs July 05, 2016U.S. Navy Adm. Kurt W. Tidd, commander of U.S.
Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), and a delegation of senior U.S. government
officials were in Cartagena on June 24th to participate in a ministerial-level
dialogue on defense and security in Central America’s Northern Triangle. Defense and security ministers from the three nations that make up the Northern Triangle -- Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras -- were on hand during the talks, which here hosted by Colombian Defense Minister Luis Villegas. U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker; Ambassador William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL); and Caryn Hollis, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics and Global Threats headed the U.S. government’s delegation participating in the discussions. In recent years, the Northern Triangle has experienced increased levels of violence and crime, attributed to gangs, such as MS-13 and the 18th-Street gang, and a rise in transnational organized crime activities. The aim of the one-day event was to address the security issues impacting the region, facilitate the exchange of best practices, and identify strategic opportunities to strengthen security capabilities. The participants reviewed lessons learned and successes to date, exchanged ideas on information sharing and strategies for improved regional cooperation, and examined ways their countries can better transfer knowledge to each other. The high-level meeting began with an update on the U.S.-Colombia Action Plan on Regional Security Cooperation. Announced by President Barack Obama and his Colombian counterpart, President Juan Manuel Santos in 2012, the plan draws on Colombia’s established and expanding expertise to develop security assistance programs and operational efforts that support six nations in the hemisphere afflicted by the effects of transnational organized crime, including the Northern Triangle countries. With assistance from the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) and SOUTHCOM, the action plan has completed hundreds of capacity-building engagements since its inception in 2013, many of them led by Colombian military training teams and subject matter experts or hosted at Colombian law-enforcement and military schools. SOUTHCOM has supported more than 250 expert exchanges and training engagements under the plan, and is planning support for more than 130 engagements next year. While addressing his guests, Villegas credited his country’s commitment to strengthening the capacity of its security institutions with largely contributing to Colombia’s law enforcement and national defense successes and its standing in the world. “It’s a strengthening that has made it possible for us to have one of the best police forces of this continent, and I would say the world … and also a military force, in its muscle, mobility, intelligence, technology, and development of its human component and leadership, which have made it a point of reference as well,” he stated proudly. Colombia hosted the ministerial dialogue one day after its president announced a breakthrough agreement in the nation’s peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, commonly referred to as the FARC, paving the way for an end to that five-decade-old conflict with the rebel group. “I want to congratulate the Colombian people for reaching this historic milestone on their path to peace,” Tidd said after the announcement. “I also want to applaud the heroic role played by the Colombian Armed Forces and National Police in creating the security conditions that contributed to this important day.” In speaking of SOUTHCOM’s future partnership with Colombia, the Admiral echoed a statement previously made by Ambassador Kevin Whitaker regarding the future of the relationship between the two countries. “We have been a strong partner to Colombia in times of conflict, and we will remain an even stronger partner to Colombia in peace,” he said.