"Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I join you in welcoming our witnesses today and thanking them for their many years of distinguished service to our nation. I also want to extend my appreciation to the dedicated men and women serving under their commands. I especially want to recognize General Fraser, as this will be his final time testifying before this committee in uniform. I imagine he will be celebrating this occasion later today.
"What is clear from the testimony this committee has received over the last several weeks from our various regional combatant commanders is that the threats confronting our nation, our interests, and our ideals are not diminishing. Rather, they are increasing in scope and complexity. As a result, the work of our armed forces remains vitally important to our national security. As the prepared testimony from our witnesses today illustrates, this is particularly true of the situation in our own hemisphere.
"The horrific violence attributed to transnational criminal organizations and cartels continues to threaten the United States and erode governance and security across the region. These organizations exploit weak security forces, bribe corrupt government officials, and transit easily across under-governed territory and porous borders. Their distribution networks have grown in scale and sophistication, and we have seen a diversification in what is being trafficked, which now includes not just drugs, but also human beings, bulk cash, and military-grade weapons. These groups maintain enormous cash reserves and, in many cases, are better equipped and more capable than the government forces who are trying to stop them.
"Of particular concern is the deteriorating situation in Central America. As General Fraser notes in his testimony, "Central America has become the key transshipment zone for illicit trafficking in the hemisphere; approximately 90 percent of cocaine destined for the United States transits the sub-region.' As a result, violence has risen to alarming levels. Last year, the city of San Pedro Sula in Honduras overtook Ciudad Juarez in Mexico as the most dangerous city in the world.
"The reach of these criminal organizations extends from South and Central America directly into North America, including the U.S. homeland. In Mexico, we have witnessed an escalation of the violence that continues to terrorize its citizens. President Calderon and his Administration have demonstrated courageous leadership in their country's fight against drug cartels and criminal gangs. But this fight has come at great cost. Since 2006, nearly 50,000 Mexicans have been killed as a result of drug-related violence, including nearly 13,000 last year alone. Such tragic figures serve as a stark reminder of the threat these groups pose and underscore the need for continued U.S. support to our partners in Mexico.
"The threat from these groups does not end at the border, however. According to the 2011 National Drug Threat Assessment released by the Justice Department, the cartels now maintain a presence in over 1,000 U.S. cities. General Jacoby, I look forward to your assessment on the reach of these networks, what Northern Command is doing to assist its U.S. law enforcement counterparts in combating them, and what can be done to improve and expand this partnership.
"General Jacoby, as Commander of Northern Command, you are tasked with one of our government's most fundamental responsibilities -- the defense of the homeland. What this committee has learned over the last several weeks of testimony is that the world remains enormously complex and dangerous. This places significant responsibility on you and Northern Command to properly posture itself to defend against and respond to the myriad threats that confront us. I am interested in your assessment of what the greatest threats to the homeland are, and what is being done by your command, in coordination with the interagency, to address them.
"Again, I thank you both for appearing before this committee today and I look forward to your testimony."