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By Geraldine Cook/Diálogo May 14, 2018 “Our partners are our strength,” said U.S. Army Major General Mark R. Stammer, commanding general of U.S. Army South (ARSOUTH), to describe his engagement with partner nation armies to strengthen regional security. In his six months in command–since October 2017–he has advanced efforts to engage with and integrate partner nation armies to support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations and to counter transnational threat networks (T3N). ARSOUTH is responsible for synchronizing and coordinating the land components operating within SOUTHCOM’s area of operations. Maj. Gen. Stammer spoke with Diálogo to discuss ARSOUTH’s focus, his regional security concerns in Latin America and the Caribbean, and other topics. Diálogo: What is U.S. Army South’s main focus in Latin America and the Caribbean? U.S. Army Major General Mark R. Stammer, commanding general of U.S. Army South: ARSOUTH has two roles in the SOUTHCOM area of responsibility, with different areas of focus for each role. As an army service component command, our number one priority, like the Army’s, is readiness. ARSOUTH is supporting that by planning combined training exercises with partner nations across the region. These exercises are designed to build readiness in the total force. As the Joint Forces Land Component Command for SOUTHCOM, the number one priority is countering threat networks. ARSOUTH works with both U.S. federal agencies and partner nation security forces to identify and counter threat networks. We provide training opportunities to U.S. forces in coordination with partner nation security forces, in support of SOUTHCOM’s Theater Campaign Plan and [SOUTHCOM] Commander Tidd’s military imperatives. Diálogo: What is your main goal as ARSOUTH commander, particularly after six months on the job? Maj. Gen. Stammer: My number one goal is to improve the collective value of our army and security force partnerships. We must leverage our mature relationships by integrating our unique capabilities into regional strategies for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as well as countering the corrosive and destructive impact of threat networks on all our populations. We are working with partner nation armies to develop regional strategies to counter threat networks and support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. Diálogo: What do you expect to achieve with each country in SOUTHCOM’s area of operations you engage with, whether through exercises, key leader engagements, or other engagements? Maj. Gen. Stammer: The goal of all our engagements is to strengthen regional security. We support our partners as they develop and enhance their capacity address with their individual challenges. We utilize exercises and engagements as opportunities to build interoperability. We can rehearse mechanisms and standard operating procedures to employ a regional multinational coalition. In addition, exercises build readiness for both the United States and our partner nations. We strive to make our exercises more realistic and beneficial for all the participants. Key leader engagements are opportunities for ARSOUTH to learn more about our partner nations, their concerns, and where our mutual interests align to enhance readiness and increase regional security. Diálogo: What is your biggest regional security concern in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean? Maj. Gen. Stammer: One of the biggest concerns at this moment is Venezuela. People are fleeing Venezuela in large numbers because of a lack of resources, security, and necessities like food and clean water. It is a tremendously challenging humanitarian crisis that affects us all. Additionally, transregional threat networks in the SOUTHCOM area of operations move over an estimated $6.8 billion worth of illicit products, as well as people. All countries in our region are feeling the impact of illicit activities enabled by these networks. Threat networks can rapidly adapt to changes in the environment, shifts in market demands, and the methods law enforcement use to target them. The competitive, adaptive nature of these organizations ensure pathways for illicit traffic and product, enabling them to exploit vulnerable citizens in their voracious quest for profits. The effects of these organizations range from destabilizing institutions, increasing violence, dehumanizing people, drug addictions, to possibly moving terrorists who intend to harm civilians. Diálogo: What kind of regional strategies and engagements do you have in place now or do you plan to have to support multi-national operations to counter T3N? Maj. Gen. Stammer: ARSOUTH’s role is to directly support the U.S. country teams and law enforcement agencies that work in unison with our partner nations throughout the region. Our engagement strategy is focused on accomplishing mutual objectives that enhance the capacity and readiness of both U.S. and partner nation forces to execute their missions in support of the civilian government appointed over them. We seek to build inclusion, collaboration, and consensus with all countries throughout the region to rapidly respond to challenges and threats before they become a crisis. ARSOUTH works with security cooperation officers and partner nations to fully understand short- and long-term intelligence and operational challenges to counter threat networks by adapting engagements to address institutional changes rather than a unilateral/single, tactical approach. Diálogo: How do you leverage the efforts of the countries in the region to thwart T3N? Maj. Gen. Stammer: ARSOUTH, through the Joint Forces Land Component Command and the Conference of the American Armies, promotes crosstalk at both regional and hemispheric levels to generate cross border cooperation, information sharing, as well as collaborating on techniques and strategies for combating threat networks. We work with each country to provide as much information as possible to enable our partner nations to counter these threat networks. In many cases, their efforts result in the extradition and prosecution of high level network leaders to the United States. Diálogo: How does ARSOUTH prepare to execute rapid response and humanitarian disaster relief operations? Maj. Gen. Stammer: The key to success in contingency operations is based on training and soldier readiness. We maintain focus on the fundamentals to ensure that our team is ready to go. We exercise our concepts and programs on a frequent basis to ensure our ability to rapidly and effectively respond to need. Diálogo: What is the importance of joint regional collaboration among partner nations and the United States in order to achieve commons goals? Maj. Gen. Stammer: The United States and its partners are strategically aligned and have a very common interest: stability for growth. Joint regional collaboration is very important to stability and in turn promotes growth that occurs daily throughout our area of responsibility. Furthermore, our partners gain stability by degrading the T3N. In order to do so, we must have joint regional collaboration to simultaneously put pressure on these types of organizations. Diálogo: How do the relationships you build help you strengthen and benefit the collaboration between the U.S. Army and partner nation armies? Maj. Gen. Stammer: Relationships matter. We are always better when we work together. When we conduct combined multi-lateral exercises such as PANAMAX, we form and strengthen relationships. Partner nations participating in the exercise develop personal relationships with each other that can greatly enhance regional collaboration. Our partners are our strength. Diálogo: What message do you want to send to partner nations in Latin America and the Caribbean? Maj. Gen. Stammer: Our shared values provide a basis for strong partnerships within the region. These partnerships are vital to strengthening cooperation across the Western Hemisphere and are essential to combating transregional, transnational threat networks. Working together ensures a strong foundation of safety and security. We strive to be the partner of choice for each nation and we are committed to the safety, security, and rights of the people our militaries serve. Diálogo: Would you like to add anything for Diálogo readers? Maj. Gen. Stammer: ARSOUTH, SOUTHCOM, and all of our partner nations have common interests to defend our constitutions, countries, and our people. With confidence I can say we will continue to be successful. With the myriad professionals among our partners, SOUTHCOM, and ARSOUTH we will ensure readiness and security cooperation remain paramount while ensuring maximum effort is afforded to prevent threat networks from eroding regional security.