Commanders Detail Threats to the Americas
By Nick Simeone, American Forces
Washington D.C. – (AFPS)
– February 26, 2014 – Threats to the Americas are increasing just as U.S.
military efforts to counter them are constrained by fewer resources, the
commanders of U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Southern Command told Congress
“Severe budget constraints are significantly degrading our
ability to defend the southern approaches to the United States,” Marine Corps
Gen. John F. Kelly, the Southcom commander, told the House Armed Services
Committee in prepared testimony, citing significant degradation in the U.S.
ability to stop illegal drugs from reaching American shores and effects on
security cooperation with the region.
“Our operational effectiveness is directly proportional to
the number of assets we can put against detection, monitoring and interdiction
operations,” Kelly told the House panel. Several years ago, he said, “we were
able to disrupt more than 240 metric tons of cocaine heading towards the United
States. Last year, 20 more metric tons of cocaine reached the United States due
to reduced asset availability.”
That is a direct consequence of shrinking budgets at a time
when illegal drug use, is at epidemic proportions in the United States, along
with significant increases in heroin overdoses.
Under the circumstances, he said, Southcom has been
increasingly relying on the U.S. Coast Guard as well as Customs and Border
Protection to provide the majority of ships and aircraft involved in drug
Army Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commander of Northcom and
North American Aerospace Defense Command, testified that he has been forced to
rethink strategies, reorient the force and rebalance risk to achieve spending
reductions at a time when “the homeland is increasingly vulnerable to an array
of evolving threats.”
And if federal spending is again slashed significantly by
another budget sequester in 2016, as it will be if current law is not changed,
he warned that the resulting reduction in readiness would only further increase
vulnerability and risk.
“The ability of NORAD to execute our primary mission is
placed at significant risk, given the degradation of U.S. combat Air Force
readiness, which hovers at 50 percent,” he said. Future funding shortfalls, he
added, may mean the Air Force would fall short of satisfying NORAD requirements
South of the border, Kelly said, high levels of violence in
Central America triggered by an unprecedented expansion of criminal networks and
violent gangs have led to a 60 percent increase in the number of Hondurans,
Guatemalans and Salvadorans attempting to cross into the United States. He
described the criminal network that transports drugs and people to America as
“more efficient than FedEx could ever be.”
Both commanders cited threats posed by adversaries such as
Iran and Hezbollah and the potential for them to threaten the homeland by
exploiting organized crime networks. Kelly said Hezbollah and Islamic extremist
groups continue to maintain an operational presence in Latin America and that
Iran has sought closer ties to the region.
Jacoby added that Tehran is developing advanced missile
capabilities faster than previously assessed. That, as well as the long-range
missile threat posed by North Korea, “reinforces our understanding of how the
ballistic missile threat to the homeland has matured from a theoretical to a
practical consideration,” he said.
In general, the message from both commanders at today’s
hearing was that the United States would be wise not to allow shrinking budgets
to curtail U.S efforts to maintain partnerships and vigilance throughout the
Americas as threats facing the homeland continue to become increasingly diverse.
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Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly
Army Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr.
U.S. Southern Command
U.S. Northern Command
Special Report: U.S. Southern Command
Special Report: U.S. Northern Command