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Senior Defense Official on Background in Ecuador

Presenter: Senior Defense Official
November 16, 2004

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Senior Defense Official on Background in Ecuador

            Q:  You’re on background as senior defense official, right? 


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Right. [Cross Talk]


            Q:  [Inaudible] what they discussed.


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  What they discussed?  Well--


            Q:  [Inaudible]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  OK.  I mean, I hate to characterize it [Inaudible], but we discussed Argentina – I mean, Haiti was the top item of the agenda.  And the Argentineans conveyed some concerns, which we share and as other countries have iterated, that the U.N. is not moving fast enough to move up its commitments in Haiti.  And we agreed that we’re going to get this message through.


            Q:  In what way? 


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, that I don’t know. 


            Q:  So what have they promised to do?  I mean…


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  The U.N. promised 6,700 troops to Haiti and I think it’s 6,700.  It may be 6,100. 


            Q:  [Inaudible]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yeah, normally about – only about 3,000 have arrived.  And as the secretary said, it’s important because the things that happened upfront have a big impact on the mission as it goes on.  The secretary praised Argentina -- the Argentine troops in Haiti.  As you may know, they were in Gonaides – G-o-n-a-i-d-e-s.


            Q:  Can you spell it for me? 


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  G-o-n-a-i-d-e-s.  He said they have done an admirable job there. 


            Q:  [Cross Talk] do you know?


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  There’s 525.  And what happened there was there was a flood in Gonaides.  The Argentine soldiers lost all of their personal possessions in the flood.  They did not give up on the mission.  They went out and they provided the vital security, even in a city of where 3,000 people died.  So imagine September 11th, OK, 3,000 people died and there are only 500 [Inaudible] troops to maintain order, to distribute food, and [Inaudible] have lost all their possessions.  It is truly a remarkable piece of work and we wanted to make sure we commended the Argentines and their commander for it. 


            Another interesting comment was the desire to improve maritime cooperation for Argentina.  Adm. Stavridis, who you know, was the commander of the NFI spy group.  And in his last command, he actually had an Argentine – I’ll have to check it, [Inaudible] destroyer.  The destroyer/frigate, the Sarindi -- S-a-r-a-n-d-i -- so an Argentine warship, to nine months in the Mediterranean.  And he himself said that they had done a superb job in integrating with the United States Navy and the [Inaudible] told us that they want to improve this cooperation.  And we discussed the problem that we had had in that the – I don’t know if it’s a problem, a hiccup – in the relationship.  And I think we can characterize it as a hiccup in that there is a new law in Argentina that requires annual notification and approval of military exercises.  Now, unfortunately, this just happened within the last year and half or so.  Now, [Inaudible] for us, the scheduled exercise is on their calendar.  We haven’t worked out the issue of how we can schedule exercises on their calendar and ours and there’s some other [Inaudible] that’s to be worked out.  This is a problem and it meant that the last time around, two exercises could not take place.  I [Inaudible] an air cooperation exercise and a naval exercise.  So both sides agree that we want to find a way to work through this. 


            Let’s see, Bolivia.


            Q:  [Inaudible]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yes, sir.


            Q:  [Inaudible]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Oh, well, there’s [Inaudible]


            Q:  [Inaudible] military systems and [Inaudible].


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Humanitarian and engineering. 


            Q:  [Inaudible]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Why?  Well, here’s what it is.  We want to help.  We recognize that Minustah – M-i-n-u-s-t-a-h – Minustah, the U.N. mission there, they have a security mission.  And you know, it’s their job to do that.  We, the United States, have an important relationship with Haiti.  It’s our neighbor.  We want to help it.  So we have resumed the bilateral military relationship with Haiti.  Of course, they have no Army [Inaudible] abolished.  By the way, that was one of the points of discussion, the secretary did.  He had heard and he agreed with a lot of folks that it was probably not a good idea.  And the fact it was probably a bad idea to try to reconstitute the Haitian army.  I mean, we don’t want to see that.  And even the issue of incorporating ex-Haitian military types into the police, you have be studied very, very carefully.  So that’s an interesting [Inaudible]. 


            But anyway, we are planning to send a significant humanitarian exercise to Haiti.  You can ask Gen. Craddock – well, I’ll provide you more information if you need it.  It’s called “New Horizons.”  The last I heard -- and I may have to verify this – it is going, indeed, to Gonaides to help them out with the debt relief and reconstruction and others. 


            Q:  [Inaudible]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  We call it an exercise, it’s a mission.  It needs construction, it needs roads, schools. 


            Q:  [Inaudible]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I beg your pardon? 


            Q:  [Inaudible]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  It changes. 


            Q:  [Inaudible] that?


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Oh, no, I think it’s larger than that. 


            Q:  [Cross Talk]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  OK. 


            Q:  [Inaudible]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  If I try to answer that, I’ll probably say the wrong thing and say who had been there, the details.  We will get those to you, how about that? 


            Q:  OK.


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  OK, because I ought to know that.  Now what the [Inaudible] were suggesting was how about while you’re there, that some of the other Latin American [Inaudible] hook up with the SouthCom contingent and be a collaborative in that area and that’s an interesting proposal.  We’re going to look at that. 


            Q:  So why [Inaudible]?


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  No, no. 


            Q:  [Inaudible] talk about that?


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  No.  That’s what Minustah is for.  That’s the U.N. job.  They took that on. 


            Q:  [Inaudible]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  No, no.  We’re going to try and help in a number of areas and where we can and one of them is do you think you can help them out on improving their situational awareness.  I’m not going to characterize it as intelligence because that’s a bridge too far, probably.  But you can certainly provide them a lot more information than they’ve given you now. 


            Q:  How many Latin Americans in Haiti? 


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  How many?  There are 8,000 U.N. troops.


            Q:  Of Latin America…


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I--


            Q:  … to the U.N.?


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yes, they are.  I don’t know the exact number of how many are Latin Americans, because there are a few other countries that are involved.  China’s there, you know, Spain is there. 


            Q:  Most of them are Latin Americans. 


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yeah, the vast majority are Latin American.


            Q:  OK. [Inaudible] thousand. 


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  And on background, because it’s not my business to talk about it, but the Argentines said that they were actually thinking of upping their contingent and maybe some [Inaudible] military.  But we share a concern that there was significant accord on this issue.  But the secretary added in commending the performance of the Argentine troops under really difficult conditions.  You could compare it to September 11th.  These people are so poor, they don’t even – I went there, right after the floods.  They don’t even have – they looked as if an A-bomb hit.  And there were bodies in the streets and they’re so poor, they didn’t even have shovels to get the mud out of their houses.  And so the [Inaudible] are the only 9/11 force on hand and they just did a great job, having lost their clothes, their everything. 


            Q:  [Inaudible]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Just general.  Just in general.  I mean, we have a really excellent ongoing discussion with not just Argentina, the countries in the tri-border, so there’s really no new business to bring up about it.  I mean, we’re satisfied with their cooperation in that area.  Oh, and Brazil, Argentina, [Inaudible].  OK.


            Q:  [Inaudible]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  We’ve [Inaudible].  [Inaudible] hold on.  [Inaudible]


            Q:  [Inaudible]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Oh, yes.  We did talk about that.  And they believe that’s an important issue and it’s going to be discussed by the ministers.  [Inaudible]


            Q:  That was just brought up [Inaudible] on this issue [Inaudible]?


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  No.  They actually spoke about it in very similar terms.  [Inaudible] it is important to have a clear definition.  And, you know, the – I can’t speak for Argentina.  You and I go and talk with them.  But we both emphatically compared on - is that each country is the one that is responsible for this.  It’s wrong for, you know, it is not right for other countries to tell another country what to do.  But we need to do it in a way that enhances cooperation between countries and that doesn’t decrease it. 


            Let me just see what else.  You already had all that.  The Ecuadorians -- we had a good meeting with them.  They talked a lot about what’s there.  [Inaudible] the president [Inaudible].  They described everything they are doing, which is a lot, to help on the northern border with Colombia and they absolutely affirm their commitment to ensuring that that’s -- to the best of their ability -- that that border was not permeable to FARC.  Of course… 


            Q:  [Inaudible]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, we provided about 100 Humvees, for instance, to help with patrols in that area.  We provided communications equipment and other things. 


            Q:  [Inaudible]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  They had a few stationary posts, as well, but obviously are concerned about things happening in Colombia, coming across effective.  Now they’ve been very helpful in working with Colombia and with the United States and they’ve done some good work here.  I mean, the highest ranking FARC operative, to date, is a guy called Simon Trinidad of Trinidad, a very bad guy, one of the chief [Inaudible] finances of the FARC, was captured right here in Quito.  And the Ecuadorians just in broad – marched him right up to the border and turned him over to the Colombians.  So he’s probably going to be extradited to the United States. 


            Let’s see, we thanked Ecuador for their support with the Manta Air Base.  The Ecuadorians--


            Q:  [Inaudible] M-a-n-t-a.


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  M-a-n-t-a. 


            Q:  [Inaudible]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Right.  Yeah, that’s it.  They--


            Q:  [Inaudible] a time for [Inaudible]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I have to get back to you on that one. 


            Q: [Cross Talk]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yeah.  And with those planes with the things – I’m an infantry guy.  I don’t know about [Inaudible].  And propeller [Inaudible] in the air.  I know I’m missing stuff here.  Gonaides, Argentina, the U.N., and this stuff.  Generally – right.  Here’s a good thing that I thought was a new way for the secretary to put out, this would be –that I really like.  You know what happened.  First, there was the MIFH – M-I-F-H – the interim force that went into Haiti, when the Aristide government collapsed and he was about to be torn to pieces by the mobs that were there, there was this intervention with France, United States and Chile.  Now the secretary said he was very pleased at the speed with which the Latin Americans worked together to organize a follow-on force.  And he said, this is quite remarkable and it’s an example for other regions because he took the United States and cut – you see, the problem – I’ll give you the idea.  He said the country did good at this kind of operation to get called upon to do it all the time and then there are left holding the bag.  And he said what the United States can do is we can be a gap filler, but not a vacuum filler.  That was his quote.  We want to be gap, so they’re not a vacuum.  And he said precisely, because our capabilities in the U.S. are limited.  So…


            Q:  [Inaudible]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Right.  But he had thought about Haiti.  But it happened elsewhere.  He describe ECOWAS, a similar thing happened.  We’ve helped intervene in Liberia with other countries and then the African -- ECOWAS moved in.  And we were, quote, “very pleased at the speed of the follow-up in Latin America, so this is very auspicious.  And finally, I guess we talked about the way to enhance science and technology cooperation in Argentina, [Inaudible] area, so it’s promising.  We opened an office in Argentina and similarly with Chile.  So this area had a lot of good science coming out of it, a lot of good ideas, a lot of good engineering and they want to reach out to the world, so we’re reaching through to them. 


            Q:  [Inaudible] about this whole [Inaudible] seems to be working [Inaudible].


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  To the contrary.  It enhances sovereignty.  I mean, the country does not decide how they’re going to do it.  You cannot tell any country how to do it. They have to decide what – they have to come up to their assessment of what the threats that they face are.  And then they have to come to their assessment of what their capabilities are and the right mix of capabilities and match those capabilities to the threats and then they have to decide how to work together.  The kind of threat that is of special concern to the ministers here now are the transnational threats, such as narcotrafficking, narco [Inaudible], narcoterrorists, kidnappers.  In the Central American countries, especially these gangs, which have links to Los Angeles and to Colombia and to other areas, of enormous concern.  And the secretary will view – this is embargoed, I guess, until he speaks, that he’s been talking about this antisocial combination of terrorists, drug traffickers, gangs and others and the potential of danger.  I mean, Colombia learned this too late, which is why they were in the situation [Inaudible].  It’s easier to prevent – a stitch in time saves nine.   


            Q:  Got it. 


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Great.  Good enough?


            Q:  [Inaudible]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Haiti.  They’re in charge of the Haiti mission.  They’re in charge.  And they share some of the same concerns.  Now with Brazil, we have just a lot of things to talk about.  They enacted a new shoot-down policy and we’re encouraging them – kind of [Inaudible] – they lit up this brand new, incredibly complicated surveillance system, Sibam – S-i-b-a-m – and we’re encouraging them to work with Colombia and other countries in the region at the [Inaudible] just that. 


            Q:  How many troops [Inaudible] in Haiti?


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  At least 1,200.


            Q:  1,200?


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yeah.


            Q:  [Inaudible]


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  It’s 3,100.


            Q:  So the average [Inaudible] half?


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yeah.  The Chileans have [Inaudible].   Ecuador, by the way, said they’re thinking of sending an additional 400. 


            Q:  To Haiti?


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yeah. 


            Q:  [Inaudible] U.S. guidance?


            SEN. DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  [Inaudible] a different perspective on it.  For instance, the Central Americans are very concerned that it’s different with the gangs and their international connections will rise to the level of transnational terrorism.  And you have drugs, drug money, gangs that are internationally connected that’s out there.  The Colombians already have a problem.  The Ecuadorians see the problem next door and [Inaudible] can to make sure it doesn’t come on top of them.  Argentina already has the problem of being hit by a terrorist attack when – I guess it was a [Inaudible] blew up the two Jewish facilities there in Embassy of the Jewish Cultural Center.  So the [Inaudible] are very sensitive to this.  Other countries don’t – you know, they don’t see the threat of al Qaeda maybe, but they sense the possibility of the drugs getting out of hand.  But each one has a different perspective. 


            Thank you.

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