During a one-day visit to Mexico City, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told Mexican military leaders he will look into ways to speed up equipment deliveries to support their fight against drug cartels.
Testifying Tuesday before the House Appropriations Committee, Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the visit a positive step in advancing the Mérida Initiative that aids Mexico combat drug trafficking and cartel-related violence.
Gates and Mullen were part of a U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that also included Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair.
Gates told the congressional panel yesterday he shares its concern about how long it is taking to deliver the helicopters and aircraft the United States has committed to Mexico as part of the three-year, $1.6 billion program.
“The leaders of the Mexican military made the point [that] the house is on fire now,” he said. “Having the fire trucks show up in 2012 is not going to be particularly helpful.”
The problem, he told Congress, is a backlog in manufacturing the equipment Mexico is waiting for.
“Helicopters are in demand everywhere around the world,” he said, adding that he had assured his Mexican counterparts he will explore temporary solutions until the aircraft are delivered.
Mullen praised the partnership that has developed between U.S. and Mexican militaries, and it has been strengthened through the Mérida Initiative.
“They’re in a very difficult fight,” Mullen said of the Mexican leadership, calling the threat it faces its own version of counterinsurgency.
“We’re working with them to generate as much capability as they can in that fight,” he said.
That involves not only helicopters and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, the chairman explained, but also the ability to fuse the intelligence gathered and the doctrine, training and leadership development required to support drug-fighting initiatives. It also requires interagency cooperation within Mexico to counter the threat, he said.
While the United States focuses primarily on Mexico’s northern border, Mullen called its southern border–-through which weapons and drugs flow north–-an equal concern.
“It’s a regional issue that we’ve really got to continue to focus on,” he said.