Dempsey: DOD pushing more forces into South America

"It's certainly in our interest to do what we can to help the nations of this region to break [these] networks," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told reporters while on travel in the country this week. 

That effort will include U.S. assistance to a handful of new, Colombian-led joint task forces in the country, according to Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan.

At those outposts, American combat commanders will help train their Colombian counterparts on the finer points of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Those lessons will be based on nearly 10 years of combat experience dealing with insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The Pentagon has similar U.S.- run task forces operating in the Horn of Africa, the Trans-Sahara, Southern Philippines and elsewhere around the world. 

Colombian forces have been waging a counterinsurgency against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist separatist group bent on overthrowing the government in Bogota, since the 1960s. 

"The challenges they face are not unlike, to be sure, the challenges we've faced in the passed 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan," Gen. Dempsey told reporters.

The new influx of U.S. troops could be in Colombia as early as June and conduct two-week rotations to help assist with the new joint task forces in the country, Lapan said.  

However, Dempsey stressed, those troops will only advise and assist local military forces. They will not actively participate in any combat operations against FARC rebels. 

One base, Joint Task Force-Vulcano, has already been built by Colombian forces and is situated along the country's border with Venezuela.

Venezuela has been a key regional ally to Iran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made multiple diplomatic visits to Caracas in recent years. 

Tehran has also expanded its network of embassies and cultural centers in Venezuela, as well as in Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua over the past six years, Southern Command chief Gen. Douglas Fraser told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 12. 

Moving more of the U.S. military's counterinsurgency and counterterrorism specialists into South America and Africa was a key piece of the White House's new national security strategy released in February. 

While focused mainly on the Pacific region, the new DOD strategy introduced "innovative methods" to support local counterterrorism forces and expand American influence in those two continents, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said at the time. 

--story was updated at 1:11PM to include comments from a Pentagon spokesman.