Radicalized Caribbean nationals returning home from fighting alongside the so-called Islamic State (IS) – otherwise called ISIS or ISIL – are posing some of the greatest challenges to law enforcement officials in Barbados and the rest of the region, according to regional security officials.
Director of training at the Regional Security System (RSS) retired Captain Brian Roberts said Tuesday morning at the launch of the annual security exercise, Tradewinds 2017, that returning foreign terrorist fighters, and terrorism on a whole, were among new threats with which the region had to contend.
It is for this reason, he said, that the exercise, due to take place here and in Trinidad and Tobago from June 6-17, will focus on the new, non-traditional threats to security.
“We knew that we had to be prepared in order to confront these new challenges to our security,” Roberts told journalists gathered at St Ann’s Fort, The Garrison, St Michal for today’s launch.
The retired soldier made reference to global security challenges, such as ethnic conflicts, religious fundamentalism, separatism, insurgencies, public disorder, illegal drugs and terrorism, compounded by environmental degradation, mass migration and the refugee situation.
And he warned that the region must keep an eye on those developments, even as it confronts its own problems.
“We here in the Caribbean are not immune to such events. We not only have to deal with our local and regional issues, like our rising murder rates, the threat of terrorism or the political, social and economic instability in nearby countries, but also pay close attention to what is happening in the international arena,” Roberts said.
A report late last year in the American publication The Atlantic, which was later carried by several leading international media, named Trinidad and Tobago as the country in the Western Hemisphere with the highest rate if IS recruits, with more than 400 of its citizens feared to have left to join the terror group in Syria and Iraq since 2013. The figure is closer to between 100 and 130, according to former United States ambassador John L Estrada, and Trinidad’s minister of national security Edmund Dillon.
In February of this year, The New York Times reported that law enforcement officials in Port of Spain were scrambling to close a pipeline that has sent the steady stream of young Muslims to Syria, where they have taken up arms for IS.
It said American officials were worried about having a breeding ground for extremists so close to the United States, fearing that Trinidadian fighters could return from the Middle East and attack American diplomatic and oil installations in Trinidad, or even make the journey to the US.
US president Donald Trump spoke by telephone in February with Prime Minister Keith Rowley of Trinidad and Tobago about terrorism and other security challenges, including foreign fighters, stated While House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Chief of the Office of Security Cooperation in the US Military Liaison Office Lt Col Jorge Jaramillo made it clear today the plan was to send a clear message to terrorists that Washington would stand behind its Caribbean allies to ensure the safety and security of their citizens.
“Any terrorist threat is a serious threat. That’s the reality we’re talking about. It’s different for every one of the countries, I don’t know that we’re going to get into the details on that but the reality is we need to defeat the threat before it shows up and that’s the point of this exercise. It’s a show of force, let’s not make any mistake about this. This is an opportunity for the forces to practise but it’s also an opportunity to show anybody that’s out there, that is not well intended, that the United States with all its partners, are willing to protect its citizens,” Jaramillo said.
Twenty-one countries, including RSS member states, the Caribbean Community, Canada, France, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands will participate in the exercise, which will shift from a classroom, simulation method to a more practical, real-life programme,.
Already, a regional combined task force has been introduced, which will test the regional response mechanism and highlight areas for improvement.
“The scourge of illegal drugs, illegal arms and human trafficking are some of the familiar issues for which Tradewinds 2017 will seek to enhance our capabilities to counter these threats. It will also seek to develop new techniques and procedures to combat unfamiliar threats to Barbados such as the use of improvised explosive devices, threats to key government infrastructure and kidnapping, to name a few,” Tradewinds 2017 Co-director Major Carlos Lovell said.