US Southern Command Chief: 'Crime-Terror Convergence' on Southern Border Is 'Existential' Threat to Nation

Sunday, 06 Jul 2014 01:13 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The United States' neglect of its southern border has created a threat that challenges the country's national security, says the general in charge of overseeing the region, and he is concerned that terrorists and others can exploit the vulnerabilities that have been created.

"In comparison to other global threats, the near collapse of societies in the hemisphere with the associated drug and [undocumented immigrant] flow are frequently viewed to be of low importance," Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, told Defense One. "Many argue these threats are not existential and do not challenge our national security. I disagree."

Kelly has asked Congress to allocate more money and equipment to help him and his command fight the steady flow of drugs, weapons, and migrants from Central America, but the budget has already been cut when it comes to border security.

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More than 100,000 migrants have come from Central America to the U.S. border, mostly children who have traveled thousands of miles from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

But it's not only children coming north. Kelly said that last year, his task force was not able to act on almost 75 percent of illegal trafficking incidents.

"Last year, we had to cancel more than 200 very effective engagement activities and numerous multilateral exercises," Kelly told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee in March, his command's website reports. "I simply sit and watch it go by. And because of service cuts, I don't expect to get any immediate relief, in terms of assets, to work with in this region of the world.”

Kelly told Defense One that the area has turned into a "crime-terror convergence," that is only becoming worse.

"All this corruption and violence is directly or indirectly due to the insatiable U.S. demand for drugs, particularly cocaine, heroin and now methamphetamines,” Kelly told Defense One, "all of which are produced in Latin America and smuggled into the U.S. along an incredibly efficient network along which anything — hundreds of tons of drugs, people, terrorists, potentially weapons of mass destruction or children — can travel, so long as they can pay the fare."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., pointed out in June that Kelly's SOUTHCOM forces are only sourced at "five percent of the capacity" they need.

"This is a humanitarian and refugee crisis. It’s being caused in large measure by thousands in Central America who believe it is better to run for their lives and risk dying, than stay and die for sure,” Menendez said. "The bottom line is that we must attack this problem from a foreign policy perspective, a humanitarian perspective, a criminal perspective, immigration perspective, and a national security perspective.”

Last Monday, President Barack Obama said he plans to request $2 billion for additional border security personnel, immigration judges, and detention and processing resources.

However, Kelly said the poverty and violence that is pushing migration are what is creating the threat to national security, as Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala have the first, fourth and fifth-highest homicide rates,respectively, in the world.

Kelly said that the United States needs the military more now than ever to protect its border.

"This region does not ask for much," said Kelly. "Some of my counterparts perceive that the United States is disengaging from the region and from the world in general. We should remember that our friends and allies are not the only ones watching our actions closely, and in the meantime, drug traffickers, criminal networks, and other actors, unburdened by budget cuts, cancelled activities, and employee furloughs, will have the opportunity to exploit the partnership vacuum left by reduced U.S. military engagement."

Vote Now: Do you believe the Obama administration has secured our border with Mexico? Vote Now

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