During the Bush Administration, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine General Peter Pace warned members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that members of radical Islamic groups were active in South America recruiting and training terrorists. Yet, the Democrat-controlled Senate ignored Gen. Pace’s warning and only a few Republicans squawked.
Today, Terrorist-sponsoring nation Iran is increasing its presence in Latin America, and Hezbollah, a terrorist organization it sponsors, is making inroads in drug trafficking in Colombia, according to American Forces Press Service’s spokesperson Donna Miles in a press statement to Chief of Police Magazine, a publication of the National Association of Chiefs of Police.
Navy Admiral James G. Stavridis told the House Armed Services Committee that he shares the concerns of Defense Secretary Robert Gates about Iranian activity in Central and South America.
Iran has opened six embassies in the region during the past five years and is promoting Islamic activities in the region, according to Miles.
“That is of concern, principally because of the connection between the government of Iran, which is a state sponsor of terrorism, and Hezbollah,” Stavridis told Congressman.
“We see a great deal of Hezbollah activity throughout South America, in particular,” he said.
Much of that activity takes place in the tri-border area of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, and in the Caribbean, an area previously pinpointed by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace (USMC-Ret) in a similar congressional hearing.
Stavridis noted in his written statement that the Pentagon supported a Drug Enforcement Administration operation in the tri-border area last August that targeted a Hezbollah-connected drug trafficking organization.
Two months later, officials from the US Southern Command supported another interagency operation in which several dozen people were arrested in Colombia for ties to a Hezbollah-connected drug trafficking and money laundering ring.
Despite big successes in professionalizing the Colombian military and helping it deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Southcom has witnessed a direct connection there between Hezbollah and drug trafficking in Colombia, Stavridis stated.
He asserted that a direct link exists between the illicit drug trade and the terrorist groups it bankrolls, noting the threat posed by Islamic radical terrorism.
“Identifying, monitoring and dismantling the financial, logistical and communication linkages between illicit trafficking groups and terrorist sponsors are critical to not only ensuring early indications and warnings of potential terrorist attacks directed at the United States and our partners, but also in generating a global appreciation and acceptance of this tremendous threat to security,” he said while testifying.
Stavridis called Colombia — the major global source of cocaine and home of the FARC — pivotal in the fight to stop illicit traffickers at the source and advocated continued support to Colombia to help it in this endeavor will pay big dividends for the region and for the United States, he said.