SOUTHCOM Chief Talks Threats, Military Engagement, More
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 9, 2001 Drugs are a weapon of mass destruction and a major threat to the American homeland, Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace recently told Congress members here.
As SOUTHCOM's commander-in-chief, Pace oversees much of the military's support for the nation's war on drugs. In late March, the general testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee and spotlighted illegal drug trafficking as one of SOUTHCOM's top transnational threats.
Each spring, the military's top regional commanders present security reviews to Capitol Hill covering their command's readiness posture, challenges and priorities. In SOUTHCOM's report, Pace discussed the command's strategic assessment, theater architecture and military-to-military engagement.
He also highlighted efforts to enhance SOUTHCOM's command, control, communications, computers and intelligence architecture for fixed and mobile operations, and the need to improve signal, human and imagery intelligence. Such intelligence input, he said, would give commanders better warnings, situational awareness, battle damage assessments and crop cultivation estimates.
SOUTHCOM still needs "significant support," Pace noted, for maritime, ground and theater air surveillance and force protection against asymmetric threats. Since the attack on the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen, he said, SOUTHCOM has focused its efforts on improving force protection against terrorism.
Pace told Congress that since assuming command in September 2000, he's visited 21 of the 32 countries in SOUTHCOM's 15.6-million-square-mile area of responsibility. All of Central and South America, the Caribbean and surrounding waters are in the SOUTHCOM sphere, including Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and other nations known for illicit drug production.
Within the past 20 years, the Marine four-star noted, all the countries except Cuba have adopted some form of democratically elected government. Some of the countries, however, are "at risk as failing economies, deteriorating security and endemic corruption undermine institutions and public support," he advised.
Illegal drug trafficking is "one of the greatest threats to democracy, regional stability and prosperity in Latin America and the Caribbean," Pace told committee members. It ranks on a par with illegal migration, arms trafficking and crime and corruption, he said.
"Collectively, these transnational threats destabilize fragile democracies by corrupting public institutions, promoting criminal activity, undermining legitimate economies and disrupting social order," the general said in his prepared statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The war on drugs, Pace said, requires a three-part strategy: reducing America's demand for drugs, countering drug production at its source and halting the drug flow in the "transit zone."
"If I had one dollar to spend," he said, "I would spend it on 'demand reduction.' ... The reason I put it in that priority," he explained, "is that I believe our efforts (to reduce demand) will provide the most success in the long term."
Once drugs are en route to the United States, he said, "it is very, very difficult to chase those arrows once they've left the bow, to try to catch them in flight, or to determine where they're going to land."
In his prepared statement, Pace said the United States is helping partner nations develop more effective counterdrug capabilities. SOUTHCOM has provided extensive training support to Colombia's Counternarcotics Brigade, as well as providing training and equipment to Colombian and Peruvian riverine forces.
Even though Bolivia has few resources, he noted, the South American nation "has achieved unprecedented success in eradicating illegal coca cultivation and interdicting drug traffickers movements of precursor chemicals.
"We have assisted Bolivia's military training effort with mobile training teams and facility construction," Pace said. "We are also assisting the Bolivian army in renovating troop barracks to establish a permanent presence in the Chapare coca-growing region," the commander said.
During a recent counterdrug operation in Costa Rica, U.S. helicopters carried host-nation military and law enforcement personnel. The operation eradicated more than 385,000 marijuana plants with an estimated U.S. street value of $300 million, Pace said.
The chief also highlighted SOUTHCOM's humanitarian assistance program that provides relief following hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters.
Last year in Venezuela, for example, Pace said SOUTHCOM forces saved more than 5,500 lives after torrential flooding and mudslides killed 30,000 people. U.S. special operations and reserve forces flew more than 1,300 sorties and delivered about 670 tons of food and water and $650,000 worth of medical supplies.
Pace also detailed SOUTHCOM's continuing efforts to strengthen democracy and stability through military-to military engagement. This includes combined peacekeeping operations, counterdrug exercises, training and education, security assistance and humanitarian assistance programs.
This fiscal year, the general noted, SOUTHCOM plans to conduct 17 joint or combined exercises and 178 training deployments, including riverine training, counterdrug training support and medical assistance deployments.
SOUTHCOM also plans to conduct New Horizon civic assistance exercises at sites in the Bahamas, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Guatemala, Honduras and Paraguay. Each year, Pace said, SOUTHCOM deploys more than 12,000 service members, mainly guardsmen and reservists to support these exercises that benefit both U.S. troops and partner nations.
New Horizons projects provide schools, water wells, road and bridge improvements and medical outreach to needy communities, he said. At the same time, they give U.S. forces realistic training opportunities generally not available in the United States. Last year, SOUTHCOM completed nearly 100 projects and more than 100 construction and repair projects are planned for fiscal 2001.
Overall, U.S. support has helped nations in the region deal with insurgencies, narcotics and other transnational threats," Pace concluded. "We are making a positive difference in helping to strengthen democracy, promote prosperity and foster regional security in Latin America and the Caribbean."