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U.S. Wants to Remain 'Partner of Choice' in Latin America

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The United States wants to remain the "partner of choice" in Latin America by providing better options than other entities in the region, the commander of U.S. Southern Command said here today.

In an interview with DoD News, Navy Adm. Kurt W. Tidd noted Russia, China and Iran are "present and very active" in Latin America.

VIDEO | 00:54 | Russia, China, Iran in Latin America

"If we're concerned about them on a global scale, that means we need to make sure that we pay attention to what they are doing in the Latin America region," he said.

Of particular concern, he said, are the areas where Russia, China and Iran are "attempting to displace the United States as the partner of choice."

The U.S. is a better partner with a more "compelling message," he said. The United States, he said, needs to make sure partners in Latin America want to work with the U.S. and that it remains easier for them to do that.

VIDEO | 00:43 | Southcom Refocuses Efforts

Terrorist Activity, Threat Networks

Tidd explained how Southcom in the past primarily focused on countering drugs, notably cocaine. However, the biggest concern for the command now is countering the networks that are being used by criminal elements, to include terrorists.

Taking an approach to counter the threat networks allows the command to look strategically at all of the threat networks, he explained.

"As we have done so, we have discovered that there are in fact terrorists that are taking advantage of some of these networks to be able to move in the direction of the United States," he said.

Southcom is working to figure out the extent of the threat and then focus the efforts of U.S. and partner nations to disrupt the efforts, he said.

"There has long been a belief that the phenomenon of ISIS was somehow isolated to the Middle East or to North Africa; the reality is ISIS is present here in our hemisphere," Tidd said, pointing out that radicalization can happen in any country in the region.

"We are all now taking this threat very seriously, and beginning to share information more effectively so that we can get after this problem," he said.

VIDEO | 00:23 | Southcom Discovers Terrorist Actions

Regional Partnerships

Tidd, who took command of Southcom in January 2016, appeared earlier in the day for a posture hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee. The hearing included the commander of U.S. Northern Command, Air Force Gen. Lori J. Robinson.

He highlighted to DoD News the importance of Southcom working with its interagency partners, and with Northcom and the other combatant commands.

An important mission of Southcom, he pointed out, is to rapidly respond to crises in Latin America, to include floods, earthquakes and hurricanes. In addition, U.S. forces conduct training and other exercises with theirLatin American allies.

"We have partners in this part of the world that are very capable," Tidd said. "They are very well-trained; they have good equipment and so we have been working with them on a number of areas as we all collectively attempt to develop a force that is prepared to deal with the security challenges of the 21st century."

Trust is a key element in the U.S. strategy, he pointed out.

"Every day we take a look at what are the things we can do to create trust where perhaps it doesn’t exist, to be able to sustain trust and then finally to be able to make sure that we do nothing that compromises that trust," he said.

Southcom is responsible for all Defense Department security cooperation in the 45 nations and territories of Central and South America and the Caribbean Sea, an area of 16 million square miles.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)

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