South­ern Com­mand’s crit­i­cal mis­sion

Ira­nian-backed ter­ror­ists pose threat to U.S. south­ern bor­der

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - By Wayne Sim­mons and Kerry Pat­ton

South­ern Com­mand’s chief, Air Force Gen. Dou­glas Fraser, re­cently briefed the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee on the grow­ing threat of Ira­ni­an­backed ter­ror net­works in South Amer­ica. His in­sight con­tra­dicts Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence James Clap­per’s most re­cent na­tional threat as­sess­ment, which failed to men­tion any­thing about Ira­nian prox­ies. Is the grow­ing Ira­nian-south Amer­i­can al­liance threat truly new or was this brief­ing in­tended to se­cure SOUTH­COM’S bud­get?

At the same time the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion seeks to cut de­fense spend­ing, vir­tu­ally ev­ery ma­jor com­mand needs sound rea­sons to jus­tify sus­tain­ing, let alone grow­ing, their bud­gets. Of the ma­jor com­mands, SOUTH­COM is in dan­ger. Very few have spo­ken about South­ern Com­mand’s ac­tiv­i­ties and needs un­til now.

Pa­cific Com­mand ap­pears to be the most fi­nan­cially se­cure con­sid­er­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s re­cent push for ex­ten­sive mil­i­tary align­ments with na­tion-states in that re­gion. Cen­tral Com­mand will likely see dra­matic cuts be­cause of the re­cent Ko­ran-burn­ing in­ci­dent, the Fort Lewis sol­dier’s al­leged Afghanistan killing spree and the ten­ta­tive troop with­drawal from Afghanistan in 2014. No one knows what will take place in the African Com­mand. Mr. Obama claimed he was adamant about de­stroy­ing the Lord’s Re­sis­tance Army and other fa­nat­i­cal groups in the re­gion, but to date, all he has done in Africa is send 100 ad­vis­ers to help Ugan­dan forces cap­ture or kill Joseph Kony. In South Amer­ica, how­ever, needs ap­par­ently are both di­rectly con­nected to U.S. se­cu­rity and more im­me­di­ate.

For well over 30 years, U.S. in­tel­li­gence had wit­nessed a very unique and alarm­ing mi­gra­tion of Ira­nian as­sets into South and Cen­tral Amer­ica. Hezbol­lah, an Ira­ni­an­backed Shi­ite ter­ror­ist group, cre­ated a base in the Tri-bor­der Re­gion of Brazil, Paraguay and Ar­gentina. Some re­ports claim this base was cre­ated in the late 1990s. How­ever, many in­tel­li­gence pro­fes­sion­als ar­gue that this base was quickly es­tab­lished soon af­ter Hezbol­lah was born in the late 1980s.

Ev­i­dence proves Hezbol­lah’s ex­is­tence in South Amer­ica much ear­lier than the late 1990s. A se­ries of bomb­ings tar­get­ing Jewish as­sets in Ar­gentina oc­curred in 1992 and 1994. While the Is­lamic Ji­had ter­ror group rushed to claim re­spon­si­bil­ity, it was later dis­cov­ered in 1994, af­ter six Lebanese Hezbol­lah op­er­a­tives were ar­rested for nar­cotic op­er­a­tions, the at­tacks were, in fact, con­ducted by Hezbol­lah.

Along with Hezbol­lah, a plethora of Is­lamic groups have moved into the re­gion. They in­clude Egypt’s Al-gama’a al-is­lamiyya (Is­lamic Group) and Al-ji­had (Is­lamic Ji­had), al Qaeda, Ha­mas, al-muqawamah (the Re­sis­tance), which is a proIran wing of the Le­banon-based Hezbol­lah, and even So­ma­lia’s Al Shabaab.

These ter­ror-based groups, op­er­at­ing in SOUTH­COM’S area of re­spon­si­bil­ity, con­duct ev­ery­thing from money laun­der­ing, narco-traf­fick­ing and ji­hadist train­ing. They of­ten co­or­di­nate their ac­tiv­i­ties with other non-indige­nous or­ga­nized crime groups from Rus­sia, China and, of course, Iran.

Three key Hezbol­lah op­er­a­tives are be­lieved to be based in the South Amer­i­can re­gion — As­sad Ah­mad Mo­hammed Barakat, Sobhi Mah­moud Fayad and Ali Khalil Mehri. With them, Hezbol­lah as­so­ci­ate Mar­wan Ad­nan al-qadi is also as­sumed to be op­er­at­ing in the re­gion. Each of their pro­files char­ac­ter­izes them as “high val­ued tar­gets.” This means, if the United States truly seeks to marginal­ize global ter­ror threats, these Is­lamists should be ei­ther killed or cap­tured.

As Rep. Sue Myrick, Rep. Peter King, Sen. Jim Demint and Sen. Joe Lieber­man have pushed for fur­ther in­sight into the Is­lamic South Amer­i­can threat, the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion has done very lit­tle. In fact, some may ar­gue this ad­min­is­tra­tion has ac­tu­ally as­sisted the South Amer­i­can ter­ror threat. The ar­gu­ment is not far-fetched, con­sid­er­ing U.S. law en­force­ment’s han­dling of the botched “Op­er­a­tion Fast and Fu­ri­ous” gun-run­ning scheme.

Gen. Fraser is do­ing the right thing. He is fi­nally go­ing public about the Is­lamic threat south of the U.S. bor­der. Un­for­tu­nately, that threat is no longer just in the Tri-bor­der re­gion. It has spread like a wild­fire and ev­i­dence in­di­cates the fire has breached our south­ern bor­der, mak­ing its way into the United States.

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