Posts Tagged ‘Leon Panetta’

US military launches training program for Mexico forces — will it backfire?

| February 6th, 2013 | No Comments »


An overhaul of a U.S. military program aimed at helping Mexican security forces fight the war on drug cartels is raising concerns that U.S. training could fuel human rights abuses — and even be exploited by the cartels themselves.

But officials with the U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), which has trained Mexican military officials in anti-insurgent and intelligence-gathering techniques for the past decade, say not to worry.

The concerns, and the assurances, come after outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta set up a new special operations headquarters to train Mexican forces. The team will reportedly help Mexico track drug cartels much like U.S. teams have tracked Al Qaeda. It will still be run under the umbrella of USNORTHCOM.

Capt. Jeff Davis of USNORTHCOM, in an interview with, played down the significance of the new designation — saying the mission will remain the same as it has and will not involve U.S. Special ... Read More

US commandos boost numbers to train Mexican forces

| January 18th, 2013 | No Comments »
Article originally appeared in the Associated Press


WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is stepping up aid for Mexico’s bloody drug war with a new U.S.-based special operations headquarters to teach Mexican security forces how to hunt drug cartels the same way special operations teams hunt al-Qaida, according to documents and interviews with multiple U.S. officials.

Such assistance could help newly elected Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto establish a military force to focus on drug criminal networks that have terrorized Mexico’s northern states and threatened the U.S. Southwest border. Mexican officials say warring drug gangs have killed at least 70,000 people between 2006 and 2012.

Based at the U.S. Northern Command in Colorado, Special Operations Command-North will build on a commando program that has brought Mexican military, intelligence and law enforcement officials to study U.S. counterterrorist operations, to show them how special operations troops built an interagency network to target al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden and his followers.

The special ... Read More

Marine takes charge at Southcom, praises Colombian peace efforts

| November 26th, 2012 | No Comments »
The Miami Herald


With the blessings of the two senior Pentagon officials, Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly took charge of the Southern Command on Monday, then swiftly praised peace talks between Colombia and rebels as better than open warfare.

“Just the fact that they’re talking is a monumental indication of hope, I think,” Kelly told reporters within minutes of taking over at Southcom headquarters in Doral. “Anytime people are talking and not trying to kill each other, fight each other, is a good thing.”

The peace talks are being held in Havana following last month’s ceremonial start in Oslo, and Colombia’s main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), announced a unilateral ceasefire as a goodwill gesture.

The general was more circumspect in his reply to a question of whether he would see the United States establish relations with the Cuban military or see the prison camps closed at Guantánamo during ... Read More

Iran’s Threat In America’s Backyard

| November 1st, 2012 | No Comments »
International Business Times


The recent launch of talks between Iranian and Argentine officials over how to improve relations between their countries is troubling enough from a moral standpoint — but the strategic implications are even worse.

Buenos Aires long ago concluded that Tehran directed Hezbollah’s 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in the Argentine capital that killed 85 people and injured more than 300 others, and Iran is also suspected in the 1992 bombing that destroyed Israel’s embassy in Argentina.

For the 1994 bombing, Buenos Aires has unsuccessfully sought the extradition of five topIranian officials, including then-President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ahmad Vahidi, the former commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force who’s now Iran’s defense minister.

Tehran has never fessed up to its role, and United States and Israeli officials fear that Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner plans to paper over the problem and join Iran’s growing ranks of allies in Latin ... Read More

Mexico worried about U.S. arms plan

| August 23rd, 2012 | No Comments »
Article appeared in United Press International

MEXICO CITY – Talks on transferring some of Afghanistan’s arms surpluses to the U.S.-Mexico border have raised concerns some weapons will end up in arsenals of drug cartels and organized crime.

Support for the handover of military surpluses to border law enforcement has come from both Democratic and Republican U.S. lawmakers but so far the proposal has received lukewarm support.

Negotiations on a possible sharing of the arsenal from Afghanistan continue both in Congress in Washington and in Texas.

The Pentagon’s Law Enforcement Support Office has distributed more than $468 million in surplus equipment in 2011, about $17.6 million of it in Texas.

A campaign for further transfers to the border was launched by U.S. Reps. Ted Poe, R-Texas, and Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and backed by border sheriffs in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

A letter sent to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asked for early decision on further deliveries of surplus Afghanistan equipment to the border.

“Much of this ... Read More

Top US general: Venezuela not a national security threat

| August 1st, 2012 | No Comments »
Article originally appeared in the Associated Press

LIMA, Peru — The Air Force general responsible for U.S. military operations in most of Latin America said Tuesday that he does not believe Venezuela, despite ongoing arms purchases and close ties to Iran, poses a national security threat to the United States.

Gen. Douglas Fraser also said he would like to see more counterdrug cooperation from Venezuela, from which most northbound cocaine smuggling flights continue to originate, according to U.S. and Colombian officials.

Fraser was asked if he thought Venezuela’s newly announced development of unmanned aerial vehicles and continued purchase of billions of dollars’ worth of weaponry, including anti-aircraft missiles from Russia and other nations, did not present a danger to his country.

“From my standpoint, no, I don’t see it that way,” he told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “I don’t see them as a national security threat.”

Fraser, chief of the U.S. Southern Command, said from his headquarters in ... Read More

Future Southcom commander pledges fight against drugs

| July 20th, 2012 | No Comments »
The Miami Herald


WASHINGTON — The Marine poised to run U.S. military operations in Latin America and the Caribbean said he’s ready to combat drug trafficking, one of the main duties of any commander of the Miami-based Southern Command.

Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly, who’s currently serving as an aide to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, appeared Thursday before the Senate Committee on Armed Services. If confirmed, Kelly will replace Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser. The full Senate must still confirm the nomination, as well as Kelly’s promotion to four-star general.

More than 1,000 Defense and other government employees work out of the Southcom headquarters in Doral on a range of Defense projects. They include humanitarian relief operations and running the detention center at Guantánamo.

A New Englander who was born and raised in Boston, Kelly ... Read More

Panetta urges Brazil offer defense cooperation

| April 26th, 2012 | No Comments »
Article originally appeared in the Associated Press

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta praised Brazil’s emergence as a global power Wednesday, urging the nation to become more involved in security efforts around the world by assisting in places like Africa.

“We welcome Brazil’s growing strength. We support Brazil as a global leader, and seek closer defense cooperation, because we believe that a stronger and more globally engaged Brazil will help enhance international security,” Panetta said in a speech to Brazil’s Superior WarCollege. “With our deepening partnership, Brazil’s strength is more than ever our strength.”

In particular, he urged Brazil to work with the United States to help improve African militaries by conducting combined exercises and other training. U.S. officials have identified the terrorist threat coming out of Africa from al Qaeda linked groups as a growing international security problem.

Panetta said the United States and Brazil are at a critical point in their history and a stronger partnership could be a force ... Read More

Secretary Panetta’s Comments on Iranian Influence in Latin America Show Need for Comprehensive Policy to Address Threat, Ros-Lehtinen Says

| April 25th, 2012 | 1 Comment »
US House of Representatives

(WASHINGTON) – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released the following statement today on Defense Secretary Panetta’s recent comments about the danger of Iran’s expanding influence in Latin America. Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:

“Merely recognizing that the threat of Iranian activity in Latin America exists is not enough. I am concerned that the further emergence of this threat has caught the Administration flat-footed, and that it does not have a comprehensive policy in place to protect our interests and push back against Iran’s encroachment. The President himself didn’t even raise this important issue during the recent Summit of the Americas.

“Iran’s Ahmadinejad recently concluded his ‘Tour of Tyrants,’ designed to further Tehran’s partnerships with the anti-American regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Cuba. At the same time, the Administration’s focus in Latin America has not been on increasing security cooperation with our democratic allies, but on accommodating ... Read More

Panetta Hails Colombian Gains in Drug War

| April 25th, 2012 | No Comments »
From Voice of America


U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says Colombia – a nation once battered by drug wars – is becoming a leader in efforts to crack down on drug trafficking in Latin America. U.S. defense chief on Monday began a week-long tour of South America that will also take him to Brazil and Chile.

Eleven years after the signing of a military cooperation agreement with Colombia under which Washington has provided billions of dollars in equipment and training, the United States is praising the gains that Colombia’s military is making in its war on drug-traffickers.

Officials say Colombian forces in recent years have dealt a big blow to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC – a Marxist guerrilla group that for decades has conducted a campaign of kidnappings and executions. Colombian forces have also made gains in their fight against drug gangs responsible for bombings and murders.

Now, residents of Bogota ... Read More

Panetta: Iranian influence in South America akin to ‘expanding terrorism’

| April 24th, 2012 | No Comments »
The Hill


Tehran’s efforts to expand its circle of influence in South America is tantamount to exporting state-sponsored terrorism into the region, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.

“We always have a concern about in particular the [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] and [their] efforts . . .  to expand their influence not only throughout the Middle East but into [South America] as well,” Panetta told reporters Monday.

“That, in my book, that relates to expanding terrorism. And that’s one of the areas that I think all of us are concerned about,” he added.

Panetta’s comments came as he was en route to Colombia as part of a scheduled round of visits to various South American countries this week.

Iran’s recent diplomatic push into South America could help Hamas and Hezbollah expand their foothold in the region.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has visited the region six times over the past six years.

Tehran has also expanded its network ... Read More

Panetta tours Colombian military training center; US can share lessons from Afghanistan

| April 24th, 2012 | No Comments »
Article originally appeared in the Associated Press

BOGOTA, Colombia — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta got a glimpse into how America’s military’s experience in Afghanistan is contributing to the U.S. counterinsurgency training in Colombia.

While the two conflicts are no perfect match, U.S. military and defense officials said they can learn from the Colombian’s long and bloody campaign against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. Likewise, Colombia can learn from U.S. experiences battling the Taliban’s roadside bomb threat, which has been the No. 1 killer in Afghanistan.

Under a blistering sun, Panetta and his staff flew Monday to the Talemaida Army Base in the mountains outside Bogota, where U.S. trainers help instruct members of the Colombian special forces.

Panetta also announced during his visit to the base that the U.S. would facilitate the sale of 10 helicopters to Bogota — five Army Black Hawks and five commercial aircraft — to help Colombian forces in their fight against ... Read More

Panetta Targets Drug and Arms Deals in South America Tour

| April 23rd, 2012 | No Comments »


U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is embarking today on a week-long visit to Colombia, Brazil and Chile for talks on drug trafficking, arms deals and bolstering smaller militaries in Latin America and elsewhere.

His agenda includes potential military aircraft deals with Brazil and a request from Colombia for more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aid to fight the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrilla group, known as FARC, two U.S. defense officials said in briefing reporters before the trip.

Panetta also is looking to coordinate with the three regional powers to provide military training for smaller countries in Central America and Africa that are fighting the drug trade, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private talks in advance.

“These are three countries that are on the upswing in many areas,” said George Little, a spokesman for the Pentagon. “It’s time for us to enhance our already ... Read More

Brazil’s Rousseff Goes to Washington

| April 9th, 2012 | No Comments »
From Time


Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is expected for her first official visit to Washington on Monday. Though the visit won’t include a basketball game, 19-gun salute or formal state dinner that British Prime Minister David Cameron enjoyed last month, it won’t be the tense, hyper-choreographed reception Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu got in earlier in March either.

The truth is, the U.S. is still trying to figure out if Brazil is an ally or a rival. Relations under Rousseff’s Worker’s Party predecessor, Lula da Silva, deteriorated as Brazil, the largest and fastest growing economy in South America – overtaking the U.K. as the sixth largest economy in the world last year – began to challenge its North American super power on both regional and global levels. Brazil in 2010 attempted to forge an independent civilian nuclear deal with Iran, though Brazil’s declaration that every state has the “inalienable right” to enrich ... Read More

Warning Iran Against Hitting ‘Soft’ American Targets

| February 13th, 2012 | No Comments »
Article originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal


The Iranian government has now made crystal clear that it is at war not only with Israel and Zionism but with Jewish communities throughout the world. As Iran’s Rafah news website—identified with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—threatened last month, Iran plans to “take the war beyond the borders of Iran, and beyond the borders of the region.” And last week an Iranian News Agency headline declared that “Israeli people must be annihilated.”

These and other recent threats have, according to news reports, led Israeli and American authorities to believe that Iran is preparing attacks against Israeli embassies and consulates world-wide, as well as against Jewish houses of prayer, schools, community centers, restaurants and other soft targets.

If this were to happen, it would not be the first time that Iranian agents have bombed or attacked Israeli and Jewish targets in distant countries. Back in 1992, Iranian agents blew up the Israeli Embassy ... Read More

Marine selected to head of U.S. Southern Command

| January 30th, 2012 | 2 Comments »
The Miami Herald


President Barack Obama has chosen to send a Marine to Miami to run U.S. military operations in Latin America and the Caribbean out of the Southern Command.

He’s Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly, who first enlisted in 1970 and saw his two sons follow in his footsteps to the Corps as well. His youngest, 1st Lt. Robert Michael Kelly, a 2003 Florida State University graduate, was killed in an explosion while leading Marines on a dismounted patrol in Afghanistan in 2010.

The Pentagon announced the selection of Kelly in a brief two-line statement Friday afternoon. Because the Senate has to confirm the nomination, as well as Kelly’s promotion to a four-star general, there was no immediate word on when he would succeed Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, the current commander.

Kelly, over six feet tall and in his 60s, comes to the job with an impressive résumé:

He’s currently senior ... Read More

Defense strategy doesn’t suggest more US military to Latin America

| January 6th, 2012 | No Comments »
The Miami Herald


Don’t expect the Pentagon to grow its troop strength or expand its activities in Latin America under the National Defense Strategy unveiled Thursday by President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the Pentagon.

The much anticipated “Priorities for 21st Century Defense” makes a single reference to the region, in the same context as Africa. The focus, it says, will be making the U.S. “a security partner of choice” with those nations that share a “common vision of freedom, stability, and prosperity.”

And Panetta cautioned against visions of expansion.

“In Latin America, Africa, elsewhere in the world, we will use innovative methods to sustain U.S. presence, maintaining key military-to-military relations and pursuing new security partnerships as needed,” he said.

“Wherever possible, we will develop low-cost and small-footprint approaches to achieving our security objectives, emphasizing rotational deployments, emphasizing exercises, military exercises with these nations and doing other innovative approaches to maintain a ... Read More

No more kumbaya

| December 22nd, 2011 | No Comments »
Boston Herald

President Barack Obama, who seems to have belatedly realized he can’t use personal persuasion to change the nature of every dictator on the planet, has at last expressed some healthy criticism of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, including the way Chavez treats his own people.

In an interview with the Venezuelan daily, El Universal, Obama said, “We’re concerned about the government’s actions, which have restricted the universal rights of the Venezuelan people, threatened basic democratic values, and failed to contribute to the security in the region.”

And while most Latin American countries “have gone from living under dictatorships to living in democracies,” Obama said, in Venezuela, “we have been deeply concerned to see action taken to restrict the freedom of the press and to erode the separation of powers that is necessary for democracy to thrive.”

Contemplate that the next time you hear one of those annoying Joe Kennedy commercials thanking “the people of Venezuela” ... Read More

Progress in Colombia Aids Its FTA Case

| June 15th, 2011 | No Comments »
Heritage Foundation


June 10 marked an important step forward in Colombia’s efforts to build enduring democratic security and pursue justice: Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, signed the Victims’ and Land Restitution Law.

In the past, violence perpetrated primarily by paramilitary groups and guerrillas displaced 4 million Colombians, forcing them off as much as 16 million acres of land. The Victims’ Law has the potential to provide aid to those who have lost relatives or a significant amount of land as a result of violence in the past. The reparations will vary depending upon circumstances, but the land restitution law will enable people to file a petition to recover lost land. Since roughly 10 percent of the Colombian population may potentially claim victim status, estimates suggest the cost for meeting the new commitment could reach $20 billion.

The U.S. State Department recognized this new law as a sign of Colombia’s increased awareness of human rights. On April 8, ... Read More