Syndicate content Link to our RSS feed / Link to our podcast feed

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Southcom's New Commander - Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly

On January 27th, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta announced that President Obama has nominated Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly, currently a senior military advisor to the secretary of defense, to be the next commander of U.S. Southern Command, commonly known as SOUTHCOM.

As the Miami Herald notes, “Kelly, over six feet tall and in his 60s, comes to the job with an impressive résumé: He’s currently senior military advisor to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, has served multiple deployments in Iraq and also worked as a Defense Department representative on Capitol Hill.” However, there is no indication that Kelly has experience with Latin America, or facility with Spanish or Portuguese.

Kelly has been spent the majority of his decades-long career in the Marine Corps. A 1976 graduate of the University of Massachusetts, he served on multiple aircraft carriers in the second half of that decade. He attended the U.S. Army’s Infantry Officer Advanced Course at Fort Benning, GA between 1981 and 1984 and was promoted to major in 1987. After a series of subsequent promotions, Kelly became the Commandant’s Liaison Officer to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1995 and then the Special Assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe in Mons, Belgium in 2001.

Promoted to Brigadier General in 2002, Kelly was assigned to the 1st Marine Division as Assistant Division Commander, returning to Capitol Hill to be the Legislative Assistant to the Commandant in 2004. In 2008, Kelly led the First Marine Expeditionary Force in western Iraq, reaching his current rank of Lieutenant General in October 2009. During his time in areas like Fallujah, Kelly had tens of thousands of soldiers under his command, according to a Pentagon official.

In 2010, Kelly’s son, Lt. Robert M. Kelly, himself a Marine, was killed in combat in Afghanistan, making Kelly one of the highest-ranking military officers to lose a child in the conflict. If Kelly’s appointment is confirmed by the Senate, he will replace current SOUTHCOM commander, Douglas M. Fraser, who took the position in 2009. Fraser also had minimal prior career experience in Latin America.

This post was written by CIP intern Michael Kane.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Will Honduras participate in PANAMAX 2009?

Note as of September 11: a Southern Command press release issued today makes clear that "Honduras withdrew from the exercise Aug. 10."

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the Fuerzas Aliadas PANAMAX 2009 exercise, an "annual U.S. Southern Command-sponsored exercise series focused on ensuring the defense of the Panama Canal." Every year, air and sea forces from various countries form a Multi-National Force to conduct training scenarios along the Panama Canal. This year, at least 20 countries will participate. However, it is unclear if Honduras is included on the list.

Various news outlets reported today that Honduras appears on the list being circulated in Panama of 21 countries that will participate in PANAMAX 2009. According to Telesur, "U.S. Southern Command invited the Armed Forces of Honduras' de facto government to participate in the FA PANAMAX 2009 training maneuvers, despite the fact that one month before Washington announced its intention to suspend all military cooperation with the Central American country." (On July 1, a U.S. Senior Administration Official said: "On the military side, we still maintain contact necessary for operational and safety issues and humanitarian affairs, but otherwise we’re standing down on our different cooperation programs.")

Honduras is not listed as a participating country on the PANAMAX page on Southern Command's website. And a call to Southcom's Washington office today did not clear up whether or not Honduras will participate. We did learn that Honduras was indeed invited to participate, but their actual participation could not be confirmed.

Below are two of the articles citing Honduras' participation:

Telesur: Southern Command invites the Honduran de facto government to participate in military training exercise

El Universal: Honduras awaits departure of expelled diplomats

Monday, June 8, 2009

Southcom, Drones, and Counternarcotics

Over the past month, the United States Southern Command, in collaboration with the Salvadoran military and civil aviation officials, has been evaluating the suitability of using unmanned aircraft, or drones, for counternarcotics operations throughout Latin America. As drug traffickers increasingly use semi-submersible submarines to transport cocaine from ports like Colombia to the United States, it has become increasingly difficult for manned aircraft to remain in the air long enough (due to fuel and pilot safety issues) to confirm the identity and location of the semi-submersibles and other drug-running boats. The use of drones, such as the Heron, appears to be how SOUTHCOM proposes to respond to this problem.

The Heron is "an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) designed for medium altitude, long endurance air operations and capable of sustained flight for up to 20 hours without the need for aerial refueling when configured for counter illicit trafficking detection missions," according to SOUTHCOM. The Heron carries a sophisticated sensor package that includes "advanced flight, navigation and communications systems and a mix of multi-mode radar, infrared and electro-optical surveillance capabilities."

In addition to being a potential option for improving maritime interdiction, Time Magazine also suggests that the United States' increasing interest in using drones for its fight against drugs could be a result of the sentiment that after Ecuador did not renew the lease on the United States' Forward Operating Location (FOL) at the Manta air base, SOUTHCOM "can no longer take Latin America roosts like Manta for granted - and that long-range drones are one of the best ways of making up for their loss." Thereby suggesting that the instead of relying on remaining FOLs for its counternarcotics missions in the future, such as the FOL in Comalapa, El Salvador, the United States may begin to use drones capable of flying long distances for its counterdrug missions.

The United States is increasing the use of drones in its military strategy throughout the world, in an effort to lower the cost of war - even though some critics would argue that the use of drones is ineffective and counterproductive and therefore a waste of money. This is taking place most notably in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where drones are used to identify and take out top al-Qaeda leaders, an operation which has received much criticism. Pakistani officials claim, according to Time Magazine, that the majority of strikes miss their targets and kill innocent civilians. And the Time article continues, citing a Pakistani daily report which quantifies that of the 60 strikes since 2006, only 14 al-Qaeda leaders have been killed, in comparison to 687 civilian deaths.

While the use of drones in counternarcotics operations will not result in the bombing of innocent civilians, as they are equipped for surveillance and not bombing or direct interdiction, it does seem that their use is not free of problems - and complaints about the Heron have included being unresponsive at times to their human operators on the ground, and crashes due to human error or other technical problems. If SOUTHCOM uses the Heron primarily for maritime surveillance at the onset of the program, crashes will not be of major concern - other than large amounts of money wasted on a drone now at the bottom of the ocean. However, the future could include using drones for surveillance over populated areas - such as the regions in Colombia where coca is grown - which could result in the loss of innocent lives if these unmanned drones do crash or decide not to listen to their "human commanders."

The U.S. Congress would have to authorize the use of a larger drug-drone fleet for this program to become a major part of SOUTHCOM's counternarcotics mission. However, the Time article notes that the money saved by not having to use as many manned vessels "will be hard to "the cost savings Washington has found with drones in real war will be hard to resist in the drug war." Perhaps the money saved in interdiction could be redirected to more economic and social aid to the region, as part of an effort to reorient the United States' counternarcotics program toward better civilian governance and development rather than military action.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Southcom's New Commander - Lt. Gen. Douglas Fraser

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.

Major Challenges:

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.

Top Priority:

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.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Report on Inter-Agency Transformation of U.S. Southern Command

House Armed Services Committee Report 110-652 on the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act included a requirement for the Secretary of Defense to submit a written response to eight concerns the Committee had on the efforts of SOUTHCOM to transform itself. This report was due by July 31, 2008, yet we were just able to get a copy of it (PDF).

Congress was concerned with the possibility that Southern Command's effort to reorganize itself as an "inter-agency platform" for U.S. policy in the region would cause the military body to expand its mission into the civilian realm. The eight issues the House Armed Services Committee asked SOUTHCOM to address in the report were:

(1) The concept for how the four new, mission-centric directorates that are planned for SOUTHCOM will interface laterally with other COCOMs [combatant commands] that maintain traditional joint directorate structures and vertically with the Joint Staff at the Pentagon;
(2) The duties and responsibilities of the two proposed deputy commanders for SOUTHCOM;
(3) A description of the warfighting chain of command, as required under Title 10, United States Code, from the commander of SOUTHCOM down to the proposed joint operations center of the security and intelligence directorate, as well as the coordination of this center with the proposed stability directorate and the inter-agency partnering directorate;
(4) SOUTHCOM's plan to manage and evaluate its internal transformation, including measures of progress;
(5) The role of the Department of State, the United States Agency for International Development, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and other foreign assistance agencies in the delivery of assistance by SOUTHCOM and other COCOMs;
(6) The appropriateness of including the economic welfare of a region, in this case Central and South America and the Caribbean, within the core of the COCOM's mission;
(7) The role the Department of Defense generally, and the COCOMs more particularly, should have in establishing foreign assistance policy as part of the foreign assistance process at the Department of State or as part of the inter-agency process led by the National Security Council; and
(8) The Department's plan to incorporate lessons learned from SOUTHCOM's inter-agency transformation into other COCOMs aside from United States African Command.

You can read each responses in the report (download the PDF). The response that stuck out to us the most, though, was to concern #6, "The appropriateness of including the economic welfare of a region, in this case Central and South America and the Caribbean, within the core of the COCOM's mission." This response is copied below.

Response #6:

While not a "core mission,"we believe the appropriateness of including regional economic issues in US Southern Command's mission analysis of the security environment stems from the linkages between security and stability of all nations in the region.

The potential for force-on-force military conflict between two or more nations in the region is relatively low and is projected to remain so through 2018. USSOUTHCOM remains postured nonetheless to respond to any change in the prospects for conventional cross-border conflict. The region faces many other challenges that threaten security and stability across the hemisphere. The foundation of society rests upon the ability of a nation to provide security and stability for its people, Today, widespread poverty and inequality combined with social exclusion leave many searching for the means for simple survival. A lack of employment opportunity and competition for scarce resources contribute to an increase in crime and provide opportunities for gangs and terrorists to flourish.

These conditions threaten the security and stability of the entire region- which relates directly to the mission of USSOUTHCOM. While it is certainly not the mission of USSOUTHCOM to lead U.S. efforts to advance economic welfare within the region, we recognize a region of stable and economically prosperous countries helps ensure regional and hemispheric security and stability. USSOUTHCOM believes that the underlying challenges to security within Central and South America and the Caribbean in the 21st century relate primarily to the high incidence of poverty and other economic inequities at the family, community, and national level. Through its historical and ongoing programs that provide humanitarian and disaster assistance, promote respect for human rights and uniformed codes of military justice, and fight terrorism through improved military capabilities, USSOUTHCOM already plays a limited role in helping reduce the contributing causes of economic hardship.

Clearly, other USG agencies, primarily State and USAID, have the mandate to lead our national effort in providing economic assistance to partner nations. That said, increased collaboration between these agencies and USSOUTHCOM helps ensure that all U.S. government efforts are fully coordinated and mutually reinforcing. It is in USSOUTHCOM's interest to ensure our activities mesh with programs carried out by other agencies to avoid duplication and waste in a resource-constrained environment.