Yesterday, Lieutenant General Douglas M. Fraser, USAF testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee for the consideration of his nomination to become general and Commander of U.S. Southern Command (Southcom). Lieutenant General Fraser would replace Admiral James Stavridis, who has led Southcom since 2006 and has recently been nominated to be the NATO Supreme Allied Commander.
Lt. Gen. Fraser is currently the Deputy Commander for U.S. Pacific Command and has been serving in a variety of Air Force assignments for since 1975. Prior to his current assignment, Fraser was Commander, Alaskan Command, U.S. Pacific Command; Commander, 11th Air Force, Pacific Air Forces; and Commander, Alaskan North American Defense Region. While he does not hold a PhD in international relations, as does Admiral Stavridis, Lt. Gen. Fraser earned his Master’s degree in political science from Auburn University at Montgomery.
Lt. Gen. Fraser lived in Bogotá, Colombia for three years and graduated from high school there. As a result, he claims a working level knowledge of Spanish, but needs to regain proficiency.
Prior to the hearing, Lt. Gen. Fraser was asked to answer multiple preliminary questions, a set of questions almost identical to those asked of Admiral Stavridis before his confirmation hearing in 2006. And remarkably, the responses are relatively standard – with both Fraser’s and Stavridis’ written responses appearing to be almost identical, with slight modifications that seem to serve the purpose of avoiding a “copy and paste” feel.
Some new questions added to Fraser’s list, however, help identify the new “challenges and threats” that, according to the Senate Armed Services Committee, might affect the the new Commander of Southcom’s job. These included specific questions about Iran’s influence in the region, the increasing role of West Africa in the trafficking of drugs from Latin America to Europe, the implications of the closure of the Manta Air Base Forward Operating Location in Ecuador, the implementation of the Mérida Initiative and the potential security threats resulting from the current economic downturn.
The threat of “Islamic radical terrorist networks” throughout Latin America, and especially their connections with narcotraffickers and drug cartels, also appeared more prominently in Fraser’s responses than it did three years ago in Stavridis’ responses.
Below are a few excerpts from Lt. Gen. Fraser’s responses to the Senate Armed Services Committee’s written questions. You can read the full text of his written response here (PDF), and the full text of Admiral Stavridis’ written response from 2006 here (PDF). In general, Lt. Gen. Fraser appeared to agree with most of the current U.S. military strategy in Latin America, including the Mérida Initiative, Plan Colombia, and other counter-narcotics and military training and equipping programs.
Q: In your view, what are the major challenges and problems you would confront if confirmed as the next Commander, U. S. Southern Command?
ANSWER: I do not foresee any imminent conventional military threat to the United States in the region. However, other security challenges are present, including narco-terrorism, illicit trafficking, crime, and natural disasters. In addition, transnational radical extremist organizations in the region are actively engaged with fundraising and logistics support for their parent organizations…. Global illicit trafficking remains a significant transnational security threat in the region. Illicit trafficking undermines domestic and regional stability in much the same manner as narcoterrorism.
Islamic radical terrorist networks are also active, primarily involved in fundraising and logistical support for parent organizations based in the Middle East, such as Hizballah and Hamas.
Still another challenge to watch is the nexus between these two groups in which well resourced narco-traffickers coordinate their activities with terrorist networks and vice versa.
Underlying the security challenges mentioned above, poverty, income inequality, and lack of opportunity drive social unrest and corruption, fostering many of the region’s public security challenges. These conditions make societies vulnerable to the influence of illicit activity – such as drugs, crime, gangs, and illicit immigration. Such conditions are aggravated by the region’s economic downturn.
Q: Compared to other missions that you would be responsible for as Commander, U. S. Southern Command, if confirmed, where would you rank counter-narcotics in terms of its contribution to our national security and the ability of the Department of Defense to make a meaningful contribution?
ANSWER: One of my top priorities, if confirmed, will be supporting the broad U.S. struggle against violent extremism. My understanding is that some of the drug trafficking networks in Latin America have extremist group affiliations, and at least a portion of drug trafficking profits may be transferred by extremist network members to their parent terrorist groups. Because of this, the counter-narcotics mission and the struggle against violent extremism are intertwined. I think the Defense Department should continue to support U.S. and partner nation drug enforcement efforts, working to deny narcotraffickers the capability to maintain terrorist group affiliations through their narcotics trade.
Q: Recently, President Obama announced authorization for unlimited travel and money transfers for Americans with relatives in Cuba and an easing of restrictions on telecommunications. What is your view of the need for review and, potentially, revision of U. S. policies regarding Cuba?
ANSWER: I think U.S. policy, including our policy toward Cuba, should be periodically reviewed. As appropriate, if confirmed, I will be ready to implement any changes to U.S. policy.
Q: What is your view of President Chavez’s intentions in the region?
ANSWER: I think President Chavez seeks to establish Venezuela as the leader of a broad anti- U.S. populist movement throughout the region and is working to limit U.S. influence and engagement.
Q: What role do you see President Chavez playing in national elections throughout the U. S. Southern Command’s area of operations?
ANSWER: I think President Chavez will continue to support political parties, grass-roots organizations and anti-U.S. candidates throughout the region who support his populist program and his anti-U.S. stance. Currently, lower oil prices have limited the Government of Venezuela’s ability to support this effort.
Manta Forward Operating Location
Q: What is your understanding of the status of our transition from Eloy Alfaro Air Base in Manta, Ecuador to an alternative location?
ANSWER: It is my understanding that the Government of Ecuador fulfilled its agreement allowing the U.S. to conduct counter-drug operations out of Manta through 2009. They chose not to renew that agreement. If confirmed, I’ll ensure U.S. Southern Command acts as a good tenant and leaves Manta in improved condition. From my understanding, the current turnover plan calls for a cessation of operations by mid-July to allow for an orderly turnover of facilities by the end of September 2009. I’m told that the base at Manta provided a unique set of capabilities that are difficult to replace in a single location. I understand U.S. Southern Command is looking at several options to mitigate the loss of Manta and, if confirmed, I will review the results of this assessment and work to find the best solutions.
Q: What is your assessment of whether maintaining a presence on the Pacific Coast is critical to U.S. counter-narcotics activities?
ANSWER: As I understand it, the loss of operational reach provided by Manta will impact the detection and monitoring in the Eastern Pacific. Some operations can be conducted from other facilities in the region and will mitigate some of the loss of Manta. However, operating from different locations creates new problem sets, such as increased transit times and operational costs. If confirmed, I will continue to analyze the options to offset the loss of Manta and work towards the best possible solutions.
Q: What are your views regarding the current situation in Colombia focusing upon: (1) the current military and political situation in Colombia; (2) the ability of the Colombian military to regain control of its territory; and (3) ongoing DOD programs, including the effects of the caps on U. S. troops and contractor personnel?
ANSWER: From what I see, Colombia has made a great deal of progress in its fight against narco-terrorists. The Uribe Administration has instilled a sense of hope and pride in the country and Colombia is a strong, thriving democracy. Statistics show terrorist attacks, homicides and kidnappings have dropped considerably and the Colombian military is effectively prosecuting their war against the FARC. The FARC has been pushed back and the Government of Colombia now has security representation throughout its 1,098 municipalities. Despite this success, the FARC and other Illegal Armed Groups still remain a threat. While I think U.S. support to Colombia can start moving towards a more “smart power” approach, I think the U.S. should continue strong support to ensure Colombia’s success.
Q: Do you believe the Colombian government is capable of sustaining the last decade’s gains during this economic downturn and the scheduled decline in U.S. security assistance?
ANSWER: In 2007, the government of Colombia launched “Plan Consolidation,” a whole-of government approach to establish control of the territory and provide social and economic development to all Colombian citizens. To be sure, the current global economic downturn will impact Colombia’s ability to fund this plan, but I think they are capable and committed to sustaining their hard fought gains. If I am confirmed, I look forward to working with the Committee to continue U.S. support to Colombia.
Q: What is your assessment of the record of the Colombian military with regard to respect for human rights over the past three years?
ANSWER: I am told that, today, the Colombian military is one of the most respected institutions in Colombia and continues to improve its human rights record. The Ministry of Defense established a comprehensive human rights and International
Humanitarian Law (IHL) program. Colombian military forces are required to receive
mandatory human rights training, for every officer and soldier at every stage of
their military careers. The Colombian military continues to partner with civil
society groups, universities, and international organizations to strengthen their
human rights programs. These programs have been instrumental in reducing the number
of human rights complaints against the Colombian military. Colombia continues to
aggressively address human rights infractions. Recently, the Colombian Army dismissed
27 Army personnel, including three generals, for not conforming to human rights
standards. I think Colombia will continue to aggressively pursue and tackle human
rights issues, and if confirmed, I will keep human rights as a key element of U.S.
Southern Command’s interaction with Colombia.
Q: What do you assess to be the intent of Iranians in Latin America and are governments in Latin America welcoming the Iranians?
ANSWER: Like Secretary Gates, I am concerned about Iran’s meddling in Latin America. Iran is a state sponsor of terror. I’m told that Iran has increased its diplomatic efforts in the region and has initiated trade relations with many countries in the region. I think Iran’s goal is to decrease U.S. influence in the region and support those countries with an anti-US message. Most of the governments in the region appear to welcome Iran as a potential economic partner. For example, President Ahmadinejad has had numerous visits to Venezuela, and there have been numerous multi-billion dollar investments between the two countries in recent years.