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DoD News Briefing: General Barry McCaffrey, CINC - USSOUTHCOM

Presenters: General Barry McCaffrey, CINC - USSOUTHCOM
September 08, 1995
Also participating in this briefing is Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD (PA)]


Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. The briefing will be in two parts this afternoon. The first will be by General Barry McCaffrey who is well known to you all as the Commander-in-Chief of the Southern Command. You can see his area of responsibility there is vast. He will fill you in, among other things, on the meetings between President Clinton, Secretary Perry, General McCaffrey on the one hand; and President Balladeres of Panama on the other, and talk about Panama post-2000.

After that, I'll take your questions on any issue that doesn't involve General McCaffrey's area of responsibility, because he will have done such a good job there will be no more questions remaining.

General McCaffrey?

General McCaffrey: Thanks, Ken.

Let me, if I may, perhaps make a couple or three points and then just respond to your own interests. There are several things I know that are happening in the arena that are of interest here to all of you.

First, probably, are a couple of brief comments about the subject of will there be a U.S. military presence in Panama? Yes? No? How big? For what purpose? Under what political arrangement? Or whatever.

If I may, let me say how delighted all of us were in the manner in which the Panamanian delegation headed by their President, Perez Balladares, and Foreign Minister Gabriel Lewis Galindo, and Jose Sosa, the national security guy, and the whole team, came up, conducted themselves, we thought, in a very broad-gauged manner. President Clinton, as you know yesterday, with President Balladares, announced that we would begin informal discussions to determine if there was a mutual interest in the retention of certain defense sites post-2000. I would suggest to you, that's where we are. So I think it was a very important statement by our two Presidents. It gives Dr. Perry, who has communicated to me a notion that we can step forward and discuss informally these questions to see if there is a shared view of international security concerns dealing with drugs or humanitarian aid or counter-drug operations or whatever. Jungle operations school, air bases, to start exploring that possibility and to see where the two nations have mutually agreeable interests.

Now it also suggests, it was very important that President Balladares and President Clinton both stated that the treaties were not under discussion. We will fully comply with the two treaties in question. So what we're talking about is looking ahead to the future and determining to what extent U.S. national security interests and Panamanian interests are served by continued presence.

Setting that issue aside, perhaps a word on Peru/Ecuador. I think it's probably unfortunate that it hasn't gotten a bit more attention than I think it deserves. We had an enormously dangerous situation in which two great allies, two key nations in the Americas -- Peru and Ecuador -- went to war a few months back, suffered hundreds of killed and wounded, shot down each other's high performance aircraft, put two giant naval forces to sea on an immediate war footing -- we're talking in excess of 20 warships each, and peaked up high performance aircraft with a view to guarding against the potential escalation of what was a very bitter brigade-on-brigade conflict in this triple canopy jungle, mountainous, upper Sanapa Valley.

It was a very risky situation, for a lot of reasons. The obvious one, two allies were on the verge of open warfare so soon after the Summit of the Americas. But there are, I would suggest, a web of interconnecting interests for all of us in the Americas involved in that struggle, one of which was in this area that we say is the least militarized region on the face of the globe. If we can't depend upon the rule of international law, a treaty, a 1942 treaty, if the guarantors couldn't be expected to step forward and stand with the belligerents, then we're in a position where others would take note of this, and we thought that was unhelpful.

So under Brazilian, I would say first among equals leadership, the four guarantor nations -- Brazil, Chile, Argentina and the United States -- did step forward, did get involved, and played a very useful role with both Peru and Ecuador. As a result of it, in the last several months we have demobilized 140,000 Peruvian and Ecuadorian troops. The two fleets have gone back to port. The two air forces have stood down their efforts. The border has been opened by the two belligerent powers. And in the actual zone of conflict, the two sides have disengaged out of a demilitarized zone of operations. We now have peace observers on the border. The U.S. was able to support that effort with a very small but capable outfit, I put about 100 people down there -- some helicopters, satellite communications. We supported the peace observer mission with intelligence. We provided some medical contracting, etc.

So it was really an interesting example of international cooperation and support of the rule of law. So far so good, and now we're working on getting Peru and Ecuador to join with us -- the four powers -- and take part in this peace observer mission. We want them to come together with us and become a six-power force, and gradually draw down the four-power engagement, and get the two belligerent powers to work together in a confidence-building manner with transparent measures to keep the peace, and then hopefully, that will allow the diplomats who have the real key to play in this... We've got a remarkably capable ambassador, Luigi Ianoudi, who's sort of been the quarterback for the U.S. effort in this whole affair, to try and work to actually conduct negotiations and demarcate the border and remove it as a bone of contention between these two great nations.

So I would, if I may, table for you our own pride that so far we've moved in the right direction, which is a successful peacekeeping operation that's managed to keep a bunch of young men and the two military forces alive, and get adjudication of a dispute back where it belongs in the diplomatic arena, rather than in the field of battle.

If I may, let me set that point aside for your consideration. I'd be glad to respond to your questions on it and talk briefly about drugs.

Q: General, on the Panama talks, two quick questions. Number one, will these talks in any way postpone, delay, derail or even cancel the movement of Southern Command Headquarters from Panama to Dade County? And number two, is the Pentagon, in fact, interested in keeping a military force in Panama after 2000?

A: Are you a Florida reporter, sir? [Laughter]

Q: No, I'm not, but I'm sure people would be interested to know if this might in any way cancel that move.

A: No. We are delighted with President Clinton's announcement and Dr. Perry's leadership that charted a course of action that put Headquarters, Southern Command into Miami. We believe it was the right call from the start. We've been supporting that line of thinking for a year. There's been extensive analysis of it.

We love being in Panama. It's a fairly small outfit. It's 770 women and men of all the armed forces. We have inter-agency representatives from State Department, from Customs, from DEA, from DIA, NSA, CIA, etc., an inter-agency representative team in Panama. We will get as many as 10,000 visitors a year that interact with us in one way or the other in some international security matter. So we're quite happy with Panama. There's an 80-year affinity between the two peoples. But the day we move to Miami we will be more effective in doing U.S. national security business. We believe that the Miami International Airport, we believe that Miami is the capital of the Caribbean and the Americas, a center of international banking. There are 30-some-odd consulates there -- many of them at ambassadorial level -- so we're very excited about moving to Miami.

Q: So these talks will not affect...

A: No, sir. I hope not.

Q: Are you interested in keeping a post-military presence, if everything can be worked out?

A: In Panama?

Q: Yes.

A: I think that's what these talks need to do, is to allow both sides to determine if there is a mutual interest to be served. I think that's really what the next step is, to allow the Panamanian government and the U.S. government to sort that very fundamental question out.

Q: I'm told that the Pentagon has a plan for a very aggressive use of military, specifically your command, in countering narcotics trafficking, but that that plan has not been implemented. I wonder if you could briefly address that, and then if you have any other comments about the counter-drug efforts.

A: I thank you, actually, for transitioning me into the third and final point I was going to make which is the counter-drug effort.

The country spends $14 billion a year on some aspect of the drug problem $13.7 billion. I spend a little under one percent of that amount -- about $153 million. So we're a modest but very important aspect of the detection and monitoring and Andean Region strategy of the U.S. effort. We support Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and other nations, but principally those three. We do it with a lot of intel. We're very effective in our intelligence support. We have a pretty decent air interdiction campaign. There is Air Force radars on the ground in four Latin American countries. We fly AWACS missions. We fly about a thousand sorties a year of some Air Force support of this counter-drug operation. We've gotten so good that they are responding to our efforts and they're adapting to other ways of delivering. We're also working maritime interdiction. We're trying to assist in counter-rivering operations. In some ways, we play a modest role in supporting training helicopter forces, etc. So about 20 percent of my deployments a year are involved in some way with supporting counter drug efforts. We have several hundred people at any given time, are somewhere in the Americans, assisting in that problem.

A final stat, if you'll allow me to table it, and this one's a bit deceptive. There may be a thousand tons a year of cocaine coming out of the two source countries. Three hundred tons ends up in the United States. We got 65 tons, about a third of that which we seized, 65 to 85 tons a year we get in the source region of finished HCL.

Another way of looking at it is that with a little less than one percent of the counter-drug money, we're assisting our allies in taking a third of the seizures off-line.

Having said all that, most of us believe that we have not yet made any strategic impact on the price or availability of cocaine in the United States -- a problem of monstrous proportions. It kills 10,000 Americans a year.

Q: What's your assessment of the program since you're only getting a small percentage? Do you think that more needs to be done specifically with the military?

A: The drug war is not going to be won by anybody's armed forces, to include the U.S. armed forces. It's an enormously complex problem. It will be won by police, prosecutors, judges, legislators who pass intelligent laws and where we have State and Justice working with the source countries. It's also a matter, it seems to me, of the family, the school, etc., on demand reduction. We're not the only ones using drugs. This is a major problem throughout the Americas. Twenty years ago it was a North American problem. Nowadays it's everyone's problem. So we can only play a supporting role, but we can help and we intend to do so and we're working on new concepts and new ways to get more effective.

Q: Do you need or would you recommend that Panama be retained as a base of operations since it is so strategically located to the drug trafficking? And to follow up a little on Bill's question, can the military, is it the job, do you think, of the U.S. military to take the major role in interdiction and can we, thirdly, can we, the United States military specifically, protect Mexico from being the trans-shipment point? And of course all this narco-corruption that's coming to Mexico because of the coke.

A: Let me reiterate. I don't think the U.S. armed forces are going to play the principal role in suppressing the cocaine threat to the American people, but we should play and do, a vital contributing role. I would suspect that we need to explore with the government of Panama how their national territory can contribute to just that effort. Howard Air Force base now probably has 50 aircraft on the ground. We fly hundreds of sorties a year out of Howard Air Force base -- intelligence collection, transportation, F-16s, AWACS, tanker aircraft, you name it. So it's a very important aspect of our capability.

There are options. We can move this effort to Rosie Rhodes, to Homestead, to other bases, but clearly, we're in an era where we're trying to save money and be effective, and we also want to be part of a coalition of effort. This is not a U.S. program, either. This is a program that involves all of us.

My guess is that you will see a lot of Panamanian leadership in this. My own view is this President, Peres Balladares, and his government are committed to countering the drug threat to Panama. I think they're serious about it. They don't want their grandchildren being run by a criminal cartel. I think they're deadly serious about it.

Q: How many troops have been withdrawn so far from...

A: When I got there, there were just under 11,000. We're now at 8,500 and I hope by the end of the year we'll be at 7,500. Our intent was by 1998, to have come down to about 50 percent. We'll be at about 5,600 on six defense installation sites by 1998. So that's sort of a done deal. That's where we're going in the reduction.

Some of you may know, we have a wonderful day on Saturday. We just handed over Fort Davis and Espinar -- the first installations to go back to the Republic of Panama. A very emotional ceremony. We ended it with lowering the American flag for the last time, and raising the Panamanian flag, and playing the national anthem. Hundreds of people sang all stanzas of their anthem -- it would have surprised Americans who rarely can get through the first bar or two of our own. It was a very important day for us. Those are the first two big installations, and more are to come. Amador, this coming 1 October will be back to the Republic of Panama -- the jewel of all the properties, right at the gateway to the Pacific. Albrook will go back about 12 months later. Quarry Heights, I'll be out of it with my headquarters, we hope, prior to 1998, July of '98 is our target to be in Miami, and we'll turn over Quarry Heights continuously occupied since 1914 by the senior military officer in Panama.

Q: How many installations are there now, General?

A: There are 27 defense sites total, I believe is the figure. Some of these are sort of deceptive. A parcel of land. But 27 sites, and we're going to go back to, by '98, all but six.

Q: The Army initially non-concurred with your proposal to start exploring the maintenance of troops in Panama after 1999. I'm wondering if you could discuss the concerns the Army has raised and how you're responding to those concerns. I understand your service has put aside its non-concurrence.

A: I probably shouldn't get into who said what inside the Joint Staff consultative process. Let me correct an impression, though. The U.S. Army is fully committed to support of Secretary Perry's thinking in these matters. I think what concerns the Army perhaps more so than some of the other services, is the resources given the downsizing in manpower, in particular, and also dollars, to support the defense requirements of the country. That's not my business. That's the Chief's business. He and the Army Secretary have to face up to those responsibilities. As one of the five joint combatant CINCs, my business is to request from my Secretary forces to carry out strategy. But I would tell you, the discussions aren't over. I don't think our own Secretary has yet made up his mind on what the appropriate force level might be if the two governments commit themselves to a post-2000 presence. I'm not trying to be coy, but I don't think we've got a piece of paper that I could give you that says here's the secret plan. I don't think it's there yet. It's going to get developed pretty quickly.

Q: Is there a range of numbers you could give us as far as quantities?

A: Zero to... You ask a legitimate question. Again, I think it depends on the two governments exploring not only our own defense requirements, but also the Republic of Panama's. They'll need to sort out in our own mind which of these properties are important to the development of the Panamanian economy. So I will end up suggesting to our own Secretary what, in my view, is an appropriate range of functions, and then he'll sort it out and go to the inter-agency, and the government will make up their minds. We're going to try and do this pretty quick. In other words, not five years. We won't talk about it, hopefully, up to the turn of the century. We'll allow the Panamanians to get a good notion of what's going on. They've got to plan their own future, too.

Q: If you could just, in general, give us an idea what the missions are you'd like to continue from Panama. Is it mainly drug interdiction, or is it security of the Canal, or is it something else?

A: One assertion I would suggest to you is that the security of the Canal is not foremost in anybody's mind. We're committed to it under a treaty, the Neutrality Act, but we believe the best protection for the Panama Canal is to have it in the hands of the Panamanian people. Right now, 90 percent of the work force is Panamanian. The administrator is Panamanian. They are doing just fine. There is no current threat to the Panama Canal. That's not to say it couldn't appear in the next 25 years, the next five years, there just isn't a threat right now. So I don't think that's really on the table.

There are a range of functions that we currently carry out from Panama bases. I've suggested to my own civilian leadership that all of them can be, can be carried out from other locations -- every one of them. There is no vital national security interest at stake in Panama. There is in NATO, there is in other parts of the world. There are functions that can be served. One of them is last week, every week we do search and air rescue. We went and snagged some poor lad out of a mountaintop, a Canadian pilot, and took him into ICU. We go get people off ships at sea all the time, our helicopters. We do humanitarian aid. Last month we were up delivering wheat to starving indians up in the Honduran islands. Mud slides in Guatemala. So we do humanitarian ops, SAR. We do training in Panama. We run 12 battalions a year through our Jungle Training Center -- a beautiful piece of infrastructure, a $54 million piece of infrastructure. That's very useful. We have a Navy small boat school there where we train the rivering and coastal navies of the Americas in Spanish on small engine repair and navigation and things of that nature.

There's a whole series of functions that one could table if they were mutually agreeable. I think that's the point.

Q: General, what's the status of the Cuban military threat in the region? Is Cuba so impoverished now that their military no longer poses a threat?

A: Right.

Q: Can you elaborate on that a little bit? [Laughter]

A: Well, Cuba is not my AOR, it's in the Caribbean, that's Atlantic Command. As an informed observer, we don't deal with the potential Cuban threat to the SOUTHCOM region. What we're concerned about is supporting Atlantic Command's efforts on migrants, refugees. At some point Cuba will be an issue, and boy, I don't have a clue. I'm glad I'm not asked to think about it.

Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you.

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