Southcom, Northcom Commanders Detail Threats to the Americas
By Nick Simeone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2014 Threats to the Americas are increasing just as U.S. military efforts to counter them are constrained by fewer resources, the commanders of U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Southern Command told Congress today.
Army Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commander of U.S. Northern Command, and Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, testifiy before the House Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C., Feb. 26, 2014. DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel Hinton
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“Severe budget constraints are significantly degrading our ability to defend the southern approaches to the United States,” Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, the Southcom commander, told the House Armed Services Committee in prepared testimony, citing significant degradation in the U.S. ability to stop illegal drugs from reaching American shores and effects on security cooperation with the region.
“Our operational effectiveness is directly proportional to the number of assets we can put against detection, monitoring and interdiction operations,” Kelly told the House panel. Several years ago, he said, “we were able to disrupt more than 240 metric tons of cocaine heading towards the United States. Last year, 20 more metric tons of cocaine reached the United States due to reduced asset availability.”
That is a direct consequence of shrinking budgets at a time when illegal drug use, is at epidemic proportions in the United States, along with significant increases in heroin overdoses.
Under the circumstances, he said, Southcom has been increasingly relying on the U.S. Coast Guard as well as Customs and Border Protection to provide the majority of ships and aircraft involved in drug interdiction efforts.
Army Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commander of Northcom and North American Aerospace Defense Command, testified that he has been forced to rethink strategies, reorient the force and rebalance risk to achieve spending reductions at a time when “the homeland is increasingly vulnerable to an array of evolving threats.”
And if federal spending is again slashed significantly by another budget sequester in 2016, as it will be if current law is not changed, he warned that the resulting reduction in readiness would only further increase vulnerability and risk.
“The ability of NORAD to execute our primary mission is placed at significant risk, given the degradation of U.S. combat Air Force readiness, which hovers at 50 percent,” he said. Future funding shortfalls, he added, may mean the Air Force would fall short of satisfying NORAD requirements altogether.
South of the border, Kelly said, high levels of violence in Central America triggered by an unprecedented expansion of criminal networks and violent gangs have led to a 60 percent increase in the number of Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans attempting to cross into the United States. He described the criminal network that transports drugs and people to America as “more efficient than FedEx could ever be.”
Both commanders cited threats posed by adversaries such as Iran and Hezbollah and the potential for them to threaten the homeland by exploiting organized crime networks. Kelly said Hezbollah and Islamic extremist groups continue to maintain an operational presence in Latin America and that Iran has sought closer ties to the region.
Jacoby added that Tehran is developing advanced missile capabilities faster than previously assessed. That, as well as the long-range missile threat posed by North Korea, “reinforces our understanding of how the ballistic missile threat to the homeland has matured from a theoretical to a practical consideration,” he said.
In general, the message from both commanders at today’s hearing was that the United States would be wise not to allow shrinking budgets to curtail U.S efforts to maintain partnerships and vigilance throughout the Americas as threats facing the homeland continue to become increasingly diverse.
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