Southern Command’s chief, Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, recently briefed the Senate Armed Services Committee on the growing threat of Iranian-backed 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 Iranian-backed 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 pro-Iran 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.
Wayne Simmons, a retired CIA clandestine operative, is author of “The Natanz Directive” (St. Martin’s Press, September 2012). Kerry Patton, a combat service disabled veteran, is a senior analyst for Wikistrat.