- The Washington Times - Monday, July 5, 2010

COLORADO SPRINGS | The new commander of the U.S. military’s homeland security forces is stepping up cooperation with Mexico in an effort to stem drug trafficking and related violence.

Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., in his first newspaper interview since taking over in May as commander of U.S. Northern Command, said he is worried about the potentially devastating effects of a cyber-attack and that he remains concerned about the growing terrorist threat of what he termed “shot-on-goal” attacks, like the recent attempted car bombing in New York’s Times Square.

On Mexican drug violence, Adm. Winnefeld said he has increased the priority for dealing with drug cartels, which continue to operate in the United States. “I’m ramping up the priority on our very close partnership with Mexico, a very interesting nation with some very courageous political leadership right now,” he said.

Adm. Winnefeld said the “struggle” over Mexican drug trafficking and violence is taking place in several different areas, or “theaters,” including inside the United States, in Mexico, along the U.S. border with Mexico and near Mexico’s southern borders, as well as in the seas near the U.S. and Mexican coasts.

“So as you examine those theaters, where are the decisive theaters? The two real decisive theaters are the U.S. and Mexico,” he said. “Inside the U.S., [it’s] reducing demand for drugs, for example, with reducing the movement of weapons and cash to the south into Mexico, and also going after the tentacles of the cartel’s networks that have found their way into the U.S., to include gangs and the like.”

The U.S. military is working with Mexico’s military and police forces to provide training and equipment, and to help set up an intelligence center, he said.

Adm. Winnefeld said the U.S., rather than simply providing training, is working toward “shared experience, because we really are co-equal partners in this thing.”

“Our relationship is on a very good trajectory, military to military,” he said, noting meetings last month in Mexico with senior military and defense leaders.

In particular, the Mexicans have asked for Northcom’s help in setting up a joint intelligence center, like those formed by the U.S. military in Europe and Asia.

“They’d like to know how we put together fusion cells like we have done overseas that are able to bring all forms of intelligence together and connect it with operations so that they can be much more effective and efficient in the way they take on the cartels,” Adm. Winnefeld said.

Adm. Winnefeld made his comments as President Obama plans to reform U.S. immigration policies, a politically charged issue.

Arizona’s government recently enacted a state law that allows police to check immigration status with probable cause, after stopping someone on other grounds.

In May, Mr. Obama ordered 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to increase security, and the administration is seeking $500 million to improve border protection and law enforcement efforts.

On the terrorism threat, Adm. Winnefeld said the danger that terrorists will obtain and use weapons of mass destruction continues to be a paramount worry.

“I would say that the thing that we all worry about most is a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist,” he said. “If they had it, they’d use it if they could. And so we try to do everything we can, in conjunction with our partners, to prevent that from happening. And we also have a very important role at this command in mitigating the effects, if it does happen.”

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