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Donna Miles - American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 24, 2010 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates assured Mexican military leaders during yesterday's Cabinet-level visit to Mexico City that he'll look into ways to speed up equipment deliveries to support their fight against drug cartels.
Testifying today before the House Appropriations Committee, the secretary and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the one-day visit a positive step in advancing the Merida Initiative that helps Mexico combat drug trafficking and related violence by the cartels.
The two 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 today he shares their concern about how long it's 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'll explore temporary solutions until the aircraft are delivered.
Mullen praised the partnership that's developed between the U.S. and Mexican militaries, and said it's been strengthened through the Merida Initiative.
"They're in a very difficult fight," Mullen said of the Mexican leadership, calling the threat they face their 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.
It's an "extraordinary, complex challenge," Mullen conceded, "but one that everybody recognizes is deadly serious [and] that has to continue to be addressed."
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.