Gates Defends Proposed Military Aid To Panama

Gates Defends Proposed Military Aid To Panama
May 9th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Gates Defends Proposed Military Aid To Panama

Gates Defends Proposed Military Aid To Panama
May 8, 2008 Defense Secretary Robert Gates today defended a Pentagon proposal to provide military aid to Panama despite objections from lawmakers who note Panama has no military.
While taking questions from reporters at the Pentagon, Gates characterized the proposal as an appropriate use of the nascent global-train-and-equip authority, also known as the Section 1206 program set up by Congress, which lets the Defense Department boost the capacity of foreign militaries, a task traditionally handled by the State Department.
As Inside the Pentagon first reported, the House Armed Services Committee is blocking DOD from sending military aid to Panama and shelving plans to send millions of dollars to other Caribbean Basin countries, arguing the department is exceeding its authority to bolster foreign militaries.
In an April 23 missive to Gates, Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) and the panel’s ranking Republican, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, outline their concerns.
“Congress explicitly provided this authority to train and/or equip the military forces of partner nations,” states the letter. “We are told the purpose of this specific program is to provide support to the Panamanian National Maritime Service. However, we note that Panama has no military forces, per that nation’s constitution, and therefore do not believe that this program meets the intent of the law.”
A congressional source said the proposal for Panama would spend about $950,000 on training and radios for that country’s maritime service. It is part of the $12 million Caribbean Basin aid package.
Gates told reporters it was not a mistake to request the aid for Panama.
“What we are trying to do under 1206 is to provide assistance to security forces in other countries that are engaged in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and other activities that are of interest and in our interest,” he said. “And I think it was an entirely appropriate commitment.” Gates sent Congress a letter defending the plan.
“I've sent a letter to the Hill explaining why we believe not only that it's consistent with the law but why it's a good thing to do,” he noted. “We are prepared to send people up to brief [Congress].”
In his May 6 letter, Gates writes DOD and State Department lawyers concluded the Panamanian forces in question “perform military functions consistent with 'national military forces,' as required by the statute.” The missive mentions Congress permitted similar aid to Panama in fiscal years 2006 and 2007.
Skelton and Hunter are withholding approval for plans to provide military aid to the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Belize until Congress receives information on how the programs would “promote observance of and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” as required by law. In his reply, Gates writes that all 1206 program proposals undergo human rights vetting by the State Department. The letter also notes that each training program is tailored to specific needs identified by the U.S. ambassador and country team.
“In some cases these elements may be incorporated within the instruction on employment of the equipment or the security capacity training itself, such as in the instruction on rules of engagement or the law of armed conflict provided during tactical training,” Gates writes. “In other cases, DOD will provide more formalized training, using the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies (DIILS) to conduct or coordinate instruction.”
The congressional criticism comes from the same panel that recently heard Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen testify on the merits of the authority, which DOD coordinates with the State Department.
Gates said today that he believes the hearing helped raise awareness about the 1206 authority.
“And one of the points that we tried to make to folks is that not every country in the world organizes its security forces like we do,” Gates told reporters. “A good example is the frontier police in Pakistan, where the Congress actually recognized that that was an important thing to do and gave us a specific exemption for those guys.”
The defense secretary called for an expansion of the authority.
“One of the things we asked for in the new authorization bill was a broader interpretation, for them to embrace a broader interpretation of security forces rather than just purely military,” Gates said. “So we could deal with countries' equivalent to the Coast Guard and so on. And I'm modestly optimistic that we will reach agreement on this.”
-- Christopher J. Castelli

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