DoD News Briefing

Tuesday, May 26, 1998
Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Southern Command,

Q: Arms sales are not a big deal in Brazil are they?

A: (Secretary Cohen): I'm not on an arms sale mission.

Q: They are doing it very slowly...

A: (Cohen): Yes they are. I think that they are more involved now in establishing a ministry of defense, hopefully by the end of the year. I think that is the process that is underway which they are focusing on right now. Obviously, they will want in coming years to modernize their forces. But, I think, that is not the top priority right now.

Q: Do you look forward to (inaudible) the civilian defense ministry?

A: (Cohen): Do I look forward to it?

Q: Eventually, when they have a (inaudible).

A: (Cohen): Sure. I think that it is a very positive development for them. It certainly will increase our ability to deal with their Joint Staff and they will have a professional military, and so their heads of the various ministries right now, are separate. Yet we still enjoy very direct contact with our Joint Staff, so I see that as a positive development.

Q: What do you plan to establish?

A: (Cohen): Basically, I'm there to establish a personal relationship with the individuals involved. I will be meeting several people, one of whom may become the minister of defense. I'm not sure who it is going to be at this point. But to praise President Cardoso for his initiatives in dealing not only with the economical situation, but also in his determination to have a ministry of defense and seize the benefit of that. And to talk about their contributions to the Military Observation Mission in Ecuador and Peru. So, basically, they are trying to reach out and become a player in various levels throughout the globe and that is something that we want to encourage.

Q: Will drug interdiction be a bigger point of the discussion (inaudible)?

A: (Cohen): I suspect that it is a significant issue that they will want to discuss, what is taking place in Columbia, what is going on in Columbia, what efforts can be made on a mutual basis in terms of this kind of an issue.

Q: In talking about Columbia - has the situation, the security situation in Columbia deteriorated to the point that active consideration has to be given to providing military aid to the Brazilian government? Not just the (inaudible).

A: (Cohen): There has been no such decision made by any of us. Certainly I have not been a participant in such discussions. No.

Q: Perhaps the General could talk about the security situation there, the training sessions and why it is important to do that. A: (Wilhelm): Well, first of all, I would like to put the JCET issue in a little bit clearer perspective. We conduct a variety of missions in Columbia, all of which are strictly in accordance with the current policy with our military-to-military (inaudible), all of these strictly conform with U.S. policy. As I mentioned to Secretary Cohen this morning, our military activities in Columbia receive closer scrutiny than any other country in the SOUTHCOM AOR. The JCET themselves, of course, are designed principally for the benefit of our forces. It gives our Special Operations Forces an opportunity to sharpen their language skills, to increase their area of familiarization, and to better prepare themselves for their most likely missions in the region. But JCETs are not the principle source of our training and support missions in Columbia. They fit in with other activities like MIST, Military Information Support Teams, OPMs (Operational Planning Missions), JPATs which are Joint Planning Assistance Teams, and a variety of other activities. JCETs are just one small category under all of that.

Q: JCET training could be described, like what - does it involve military training rather than counter-drug training?

A: (Wilhelm): Well as I mentioned to you, I think that it is important to focus on who is the beneficiary of the training. While there are some limited benefits for the host nation forces, it is designed primarily for our people. And as I mentioned, the goal is to sharpen their language skills, to make sure that their area of familiarization is right at the top. To give them the opportunities to train in the environments which are peculiar to the region. And to sharpen their skills for their most likely missions.

Q: What about the general security situation in Columbia? Are you concerned about the turn that has taken in the recent months? Is that a growing problem?

A: (Wilhelm): Yes. I gave Congressional testimony on that subject and I stated, I think fairly clearly, that we did have concerns with the security situation in Columbia. I think right now, as we approach the presidential elections, this is certainly another at-risk period. But as Secretary Cohen mentioned, our policies for our involvement in Columbia has not changed. There is a fairly comprehensive review underway. But the game rules remain now as they have been for the last several years.

Q: After the elections, will you be taking a closer look at military aid to Columbia?

A: (Wilhelm): Only in the context of an overall policy review in Washington.

Q: Secretary, I noticed that you told CNN - they asked you about the training and you said, I believe, most of the training was to train them how to protect aircraft and that kind of thing. What else do these missions do? The Special Forces group - what do they do essentially?

A: (Cohen): I think he just outlined what they do.

Q: He didn't say exactly what they do, he did not say what the training was, what do they do when they work with Colombian Forces. Do they parachute, do they go through the jungle..?

A: (Wilhelm): Let's clarify a couple of points right up front: number one; there are no U.S. advisors in Columbia. Number two; there are no U.S. personnel engaged in ground tactical or air tactical operations with Colombian forces what-so-ever. We've had an ongoing program over a great many years - keeping in mind that Columbia is one of the oldest democracies in the hemisphere, desiring to professionalize their armed forces just as is the case with all the other militaries that we visited. The certification process has, of course, placed some constraints on the kinds of training we conduct. With the national security waivers that we have received, the training has been focused exclusively on those skills that aid the Colombians to more effectively prosecute their counter-narcotics operations. So those are the goals and objectives. Professionalization of the armed forces, respect for human rights, and to increase their efficiency in conducting counter-narcotics operations.

Q: Briefly again, what do these special forces do on the ground? Do they operate in small numbers (inaudible), how does it work?

A: (Wilhelm): After this is over, I can go through the whole menu of the kinds of exercises that we conduct and the kinds of training missions that occur down range. I've described for you, in fairly clear terms, precisely how we work. The size of the unit involved varies based on the nature of the training mission. Again, the points that I want to underscore: no field tactical operations; no advisors of any sort at anytime, period.

Q: Are special forces groups working in areas where guerrillas are active? Are they barred from working areas where (inaudible) are active or other guerrilla groups?

A: (Wilhelm): We conduct very intense security assessments, but before we conduct any training missions down range, each and every one of those missions are (inaudible) through the ambassador and the country team. They are only employed in regions where we are satisfied that they can carry out their missions with appropriate attention to force protection and their own personal security.

A: (Cohen): Can I just make one other point about Brazil as far as the counter-narcotics effort? Each government, and obviously any government, must decide for itself on how it is going to combat the flow of illegal narcotics to the extent that Brazil or any other government wishes to secure any kind of advice, or information assistance, we are eager to provide that. But Brazil must make that determination for itself as a sovereign entity. Our role is one of that if they want assistance and desire it, we try to accommodate that. But we don't, in any way, try to dictate what their policy is going to be.