Via Attackerman, Defense Secretary Robert Gates plans to name Navy Admiral James Stavridis to NATO’s top command post. Stavridis is the current head of U.S. Southern Command, and would be “the first naval officer to hold the prestigious post of Supreme Allied Commander Europe.”
Stavridis has no previous experience of Afghanistan but he is regarded as intellectual, ambitious and energetic.
He holds a doctorate in international relations and has cultivated a reputation as a creative thinker, writing a blog and organizing movie nights at his Miami headquarters featuring Latin American films to educate staff about regional issues.
This article notes that “putting a Navy officer in the job in the midst of a ground war” — Afghanistan — “may concern some, but Stavridis oversees elements from all the U.S. military services in his current role” at SOUTHCOM, which is responsible for Central and South America and the Caribbean. Further, Stavridis’ tenure at SOUTHCOM provided experience in dealing with two of the main drivers of the war in Afghanistan — narcotics and Islamic extremism — and the nexus between them.
Stavridis testified last year that Islamic extremist groups are a “less immediate force in the region, but [they have] the potential to become of greater concern.”
At the moment, I would say, at an unclassified level, [their efforts are] largely centered in proselytizing, recruiting, money laundering. It is hooked somewhat into the narcotics trade and, above all, it is a means of generation of revenue, largely for the Hezbollah Islamic radical organization. Monies are garnered here in Latin America and go back to Hezbollah.
Yesterday, Stavridis told the House Armed Services Committee that “we see a great deal of Hezbollah activity throughout South America, in particular.”
[Stavridis] noted the direct link between the illicit drug trade and the terrorist groups it bankrolls, noting the threat posed by Islamic radical terrorism.
“Indentifying, monitoring and dismantling the financial, logistical and communication linkages between illicit trafficking groups and terrorist sponsors are critical to not only ensuring early indications and warnings of potential terrorist attacks directed at the United States and our partners, but also in generating a global appreciation and acceptance of this tremendous threat to security,” he said.
According to the State Department, despite a 19-percent drop in cultivation last year, Afghanistan remains the world’s largest opium poppy producer, and the drug trade fuels the insurgency there.