Navy Adm. Kurt Tidd, the top U.S. military commander in Latin America and the Caribbean, said Wednesday he sees the potential of an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria presence in the region.
"Short answer? Yes," he said, when asked about that potential at an Atlantic Council event on Wednesday. "We see that radicalization is occurring."
"When I talk with my counterparts in various countries throughout the region, all of them recognize that the potential for radicalization — and especially this phenomena of self-radicalization, internet-inspired, or facilitated self-radicalization — is something that they are starting to see crop up," he said.
"It's a challenge we can find literally throughout the region," he added.
Tidd's comments came during an event in Washington where he spoke about the danger of transnational criminal networks throughout the Latin American and Caribbean region.
He said the networks, which illegally traffic drugs, weapons, gold and other material, could also move people with "known terrorist ties from the Middle East" up through South and Central America across the U.S. border.
"You want to spread an extremist message in the Caribbean and recruit fighters for ISIL? We have a worrisome number of networks engaged in that," he said, using another acronym for ISIS.
Tidd's predecessor, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, said about 100 people from the region have gone to Iraq and Syria as foreign fighters.
He said the most sophisticated of these networks have highly-efficient logistical infrastructure that span the globe, and control distribution hubs and smuggling routes that lead into the U.S.
He said these networks have a "dense web" of contacts, and in the case of extremist networks, ideologues and influencers who nurture the radicalization process and foster the spread of extremist ideology.
Tidd said "simply stopping the drugs" is no longer enough to combat these networks, and that he has charged Southern Command to do everything it can to help U.S. government colleagues to try to dismantle these networks.
Tidd said Southcom is lending its capabilities to a U.S. multiagency team combating human smuggling in the Americas and hosting an interagency cooperation workshop at its headquarters in Miami, and hope to host one with Latin American partners later in the year.
"Now this may surprise some of you, but we don't often come together like this. We talk a lot about dismantling networks but we almost never talk about building our own," he said.
"We know that none of us, no single department or agency, no single nation can do it alone. So if we're serious about combating these networks, it will truly require all hands on deck," he said.