By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, March 12, 2015 – The movement and tracking of recruits traveling from the Caribbean region to Syria to fight alongside Islamic extremists is concerning, Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, said today.
During a Pentagon news briefing, Kelly responded to reporters’ questions, which were generated by his testimony on Southcom’s posture earlier today before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
About 100 Recruits from Region
During his SASC testimony, the general said about 100 recruits have traveled from the Caribbean to Syria to fight alongside Islamic extremists.
“Everyone’s concerned too if they come home,” he said, “because if they went over radicalized, one would expect they’ll come back at least that radicalized.”
“Do we have any indication right now of … any scheme to attack the United States? No,” Kelly said.
The general said it’s a situation similar to the U.S. where “there’s some small number reportedly that have radicalized for one reason or another here in the United States.”
But much larger numbers of extremist recruits go from Western Europe into the fight in Syria, where they develop fighting skills, Kelly said.
Smaller countries, he noted, have a harder time tracking the numbers of people and their movements, because they lack a functioning legal justice system, an FBI, and “layers and layers of ‘clean’ policemen and women.”
“That’s kind of the first issue,” Kelly said. The second issue in tracking recruits, he said, is that some people in Southcom’s area of operations, just as in the United States and in Western Europe, are recruited or radicalized from the internet.
“But there are a couple of pretty radical mosques in the region,” Kelly said, “[in] some of the places I’ve just mentioned.”
“But 100 [recruits] certainly doesn’t seem like a lot,” he said, “and it’s not. But the little countries that they come from -- with a total inability to really deal with it -- that’s kind of what their concern is, so we watch them.”
Providing Tracking Assistance
A reporter asked whether the U.S. is assisting those countries in the tracking effort.
“Well, they don’t have nearly the ability, these countries I’m talking about, and in general, the countries in the Western hemisphere, they don’t have nearly the ability to track people like we do,” he said.
Again, Kelly said, those smaller countries lack capabilities such as the FBI, homeland security databases and similar capabilities.
“When you’re in [that] part of the world,” he said, “you travel pretty freely between countries. There are legal ways to do it, but … simply, people walk across borders.”
Kelly said the transnational criminal network “that comes up through the isthmus [of Panama] and Mexico, that carries anything and everything on it” contributes to people’s ability to cross borders.
“Not to take anything away from the Department of Homeland Security men and women, FBI, and all,” he said. “They just do a magnificent job.”
The amount of movement and the sophistication of the network, Kelly said, “overwhelms our ability to stop everything.”
One method of dealing with this issue, Kelly said, is sharing information or intelligence with certain countries.
“We share a great deal of either intelligence or information,” he said. “We’ve worked out some ways, as an example, to share information with some of these countries that then interdict drug movements.”
Kelly said it’s “not technically intel,” but information that is shared with other countries through U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency.
“There,” he said, “they have networks of people that they work with in, say, Colombia, Bogota, Cartagena -- very cooperative police institutions that work with our DEA and our FBI, and other countries like that.”