Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
A high-level military officer out of the United States, armed with immense influential reach throughout the hemisphere, has saluted the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) for the role it is playing in the Caribbean.
General John Kelly, commander of the United States Southern Command (US Marine Corps), offered his compliments of the JDF and expressed satisfaction with Jamaica's efforts to combat narco-trafficking.
"You have a great army," Kelly declared in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Gleaner, minutes after he landed in Jamaica late last week.
Asked to gauge Jamaica's fight against narco-trafficking, Kelly said the country was "fully cooperative and fully dedicated".
Kelly revealed that a portion of the discussion with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller during his brief visit to the island last week involved the troubling issue of drug trafficking in the region.
This was Kelly's second visit to the island, but his first in an official capacity.
"It's really getting out to meet people and Jamaica is one of the closest friends of the United States in this region," said Kelly as he endorsed JDF Chief of Defence Staff Major General Antony Anderson as "just the best".
DOING REMARKABLE THINGS
"From a military point of view, it's all good … . Anderson is obviously working with the prime minister and the Government, and has done some remarkable things here."
Kelly is a veteran of the US Marine, having served in a range of capacities in that country as well as Europe.
He singled out the JDF's Maritime Centre of Excellence, which he characterised as a shining example for neighbouring states.
"Quite frankly, to a large degree, thumbs up to Jamaica for what they are trying to do in their own country with the security forces and the centre of excellence that Major General Anderson has established here … . It has really become a role model for the rest of the region," said Kelly.
He disclosed that before speaking with The Sunday Gleaner, he met with Simpson Miller for what he described as a great conversation with her.
"We talked about a range of issues … . So we are here to open up some dialogue … . More than anything else, the country in doing a good job with its security."
The US Southern Command is responsible for America's military cooperation with 31 countries and 15 areas of special sovereignty.
Kelly told The Sunday Gleaner that the mission of Southern Command is twofold "to partner with every nation we can partner with and that is the vast majority of the nations in the Caribbean and Central and Latin America".
The US Southern Command other role, he said, was the monitoring of drug trafficking throughout the region.
"This constitutes detecting narcotic drugs as they flow from this part of the world up into the United States over to Africa into Europe.
"Obviously, this primarily revolves around cocaine coming out of Latin America, through Central America into the United States."
He cited the Far West (Guatemala, Panama, Mexico) as the primary route for the cocaine being moved into the US.
"Not so much this way, some, but not so much," he added.
"We work very closely with your Government. We share intelligence to them to make sure that if we ever see the cocaine trafficking start to shift direction, we could alert the Government, law enforcement and the army, but we have a pretty clear picture of the drug routes."
Added Kelly: "We are very friendly with Jamaica. We have great engagements not only with the military but law enforcement as well."