Monday, March 02, 2009

Gates: U.S. Military Could Help Mexico Fight Drug Cartels

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

March 2, 2009 - The United States could increase its military support to help Mexico fight drug cartels that pose an increasingly alarming security risk, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday. "I think we are beginning to be in a position to help the Mexicans more than we have in the past," Gates said during an NBC "Meet the Press" interview. "Some of the old biases against cooperation between our militaries and so on, I think, are being satisfied."

Drug-related violence has soared in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon dispatched the federal army to confront the well-armed and -financed cartels. So far in 2009, an estimated 1,000 people have been killed.

"The cartels are retaliating," Gates said yesterday. "It clearly is a serious problem."

The United States could support the effort through training, reconnaissance and surveillance support, intelligence cooperation and other assistance, Gates said.

The secretary praised Calderon's courage in standing up to the cartels and police corruption in a way that previous presidents wouldn't. "One of the reasons it's gotten as bad as it has is because his predecessors basically refused to do that," he said.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shared Gates' growing concern about Mexico last week during a Pentagon news conference.

"Mexico is certainly more of a concern to me," Mullen said. He announced plans to visit Mexico on the last leg of this week's trip to Latin America.

Mullen noted the spike in drug-related violence in Mexico that has increased dramatically in the last year. "We're looking for ways to assist them in terms of addressing this kind of threat," he said.

The chairman pointed during a Feb. 5 address at Princeton University to successes the United States has helped Colombia to achieve over drug cartels and narcoterrorists that had controlled much of the country. The U.S. military provided primarily training assistance, but other interagency efforts also supported efforts taken by the Colombian government and military.

"I think the Colombian example is a great example of a very broad program that wasn't just military to support a friend at a time when, effectively, they were very close to a failed state," Mullen said.

Mullen said the same kind of support could help Mexico. "We've offered that," he said. "It takes engagement -- not high-end military activity."

The days of looking east and west more than north and south to assess security threats are long over, he told the Princeton audience.

"We do need to pay a lot of attention to our neighbor and the security issues and the economic issues that are associated with not just Mexico, but with Latin America," he said.

Guard Ends New Orleans Mission, Focuses on Wildfires, Snow

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

March 2, 2009 - As the Louisiana National Guard wrapped up its "precedent-setting" law enforcement mission in New Orleans yesterday, the Texas National Guard dispatched helicopters to combat wildfires torching Central Texas. Meanwhile, as a major snowstorm works its way up the East Coast, National Guard units in the affected states are keeping a watchful eye and preparing to support local authorities if needed.

The last 100 Louisiana National Guard soldiers and airmen supporting "Joint Task Force Gator" completed operations yesterday to return to their communities across the state, Army Maj. Michael Kazmierzak, state public affairs officer, said. The Louisiana Guard has been conducting the mission in support of the New Orleans Police Department since June 2006.

Most of the Guardsmen involved had been part of a 15,000-troop force that provided disaster assistance and recovery support immediately after Hurricane Katrina struck the state in August 2005. That support concluded in January 2006 as civil authority was restored.

But six months later, as violence began to spike again, then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco called the National Guard troops to duty to support the New Orleans Police Department. Within three days, 300 were operating in the city, and the number increased to 360 in November 2007, Kazmierzak said.

The task force began ramping down last summer in anticipation of a Dec. 31 mission deadline. However, the Louisiana government authorized an extension until March 1 at New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley's request, Kazmierzak said.

Yesterday, 100 soldiers and airmen who had volunteered from a mix of units across the state officially wrapped up Joint Task Force Gator.

Kazmierzak called the support they provided "precedent setting" and said it sets a new standard for future National Guard support missions. The Guardsmen helped the police make more than 8,000 arrests.

"They performed spectacularly," Kazmierzak said. "They demonstrated exactly what the National Guard is here for."

As the Guardsmen supported Task Force Gator, they continued drilling with their separate units to maintain combat readiness. Many of the Guard volunteers had served previous combat deployments that Kazmierzak said contributed to the New Orleans security mission. "They brought back a wealth of experience doing police-type work," he said. "They had tremendous capabilities."

Meanwhile, in neighboring Texas, Gov. Rick Perry ordered four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters equipped to drop water and fire retardant to support firefighting efforts. Aircraft and crews from the Guard's flight facilities in Austin and San Antonio logged in 6.4 flight hours as they dropped 35 to 40 bucketloads over the fires Feb. 28, Army Capt. Edward Greber from the Austin aviation office reported. "We were pretty busy on Saturday," he said.

The crews remain on standby, awaiting additional orders, Greber said.

State officials reported that almost 3,700 wildfires have burned more than 118,000 acres across the state since Jan. 1. The most significant damage occurred last weekend in Bastrop County, where 25 homes were destroyed and 1,000 acres burned. So far, 57 homes have been lost to the fires.

Meanwhile, state National Guard headquarters in the mid-Atlantic and northeast are preparing to lend assistance to local jurisdictions if needed in the wake of a major late-winter snowstorm.

In Maryland, Army Brig. Gen. James Adkins, the state adjutant general, ordered the Maryland National Guard to analyze potential missions under a winter storm state emergency scenario, Army Staff Sgt. Kristofer Baumgartner reported.

"This is a precautionary measure -- an opportunity to ensure that we are prepared for any state emergency that the governor might direct us to respond to," Adkins said.
Under a state emergency, Gov. Martin O'Malley would activate the Maryland Guard, which would be available to help local jurisdictions through the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

"It is a proven system, and one that has worked time and time again," Adkins said.

For now, the Maryland Guard and other National Guard elements throughout the region remain in a watch-and-wait mode. "We're always on standby," Baumgartner said. "That's the job of the National Guard. We're always on alert, to make sure that when we're directed to respond, we're ready."

U.N., North Korea Hold Rare Talks

By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

March 2, 2009 - Officials from the North Korean army and the United Nations Command held their first high-level talks in nearly seven years today inside the Demilitarized Zone. North Korea requested the meeting to discuss measures to reduce tension on the Korean peninsula, according to a statement released today by the U.S.-led United Nations Command there. The 32-minute meeting took place in Gyeonggi province's Panmunjom village.

"The United Nations Command sees the North Korean request for these general-officer-level talks to start again as positive," UNC officials said in the statement. "These talks can be useful in building trust and preventing misunderstanding as well as introducing transparency regarding the intentions of both sides."

Relations have been tense between the two parties, as the U.N. continues its efforts to convince North Korean leaders to shut down nuclear weapons production and stop proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

News reports said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to dispatch envoy Stephen Bosworth to North Korea this week to initiate disarmament talks with the country.

Clinton said during a recent trip to the region that denuclearization by North Korea would be "a chance to normalize relations," calling for "complete and verifiable denuclearization" of the communist north.