The number of U.S. service members deployed to the Guantanamo Bay prison may be cut as part of the Pentagon’s worldwide look at where it can reallocate forces, U.S. Southern Command commander Navy Adm. Craig Faller said Thursday.
Faller told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Southern Command is looking at the detention facility to determine if there’s “a more efficient way to conduct that mission set.”
Faller said there are currently about 1,800 U.S. National Guard forces serving at the military prison at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The detention facility opened in 2002 to hold prisoners affiliated with al-Qaida and the Taliban caught during the almost two-decade-long war on terrorism.
About 780 prisoners have been held at the facility since it opened, but only 40 remain now, including detainees charged in connection with the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the October 2000 strike on the destroyer USS Cole.
In the Senate hearing, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., questioned whether it was time to move the remaining prisoners to a maximum security facility in the United States to save money.
“It’s costing $13 million per inmate. $13 million. What type of efficiencies do you think you can do to cut into that? How can we better operate and don’t you think it is time we look at re-positioning these prisoners that would be more cost effective to the American taxpayers?”
In an exclusive interview with McClatchy after the hearing, Faller said the review would look at the base size and the number of personnel serving there.
“The footprint of Guantanamo is spread out, there’s a lot of camps, a lot of infrastructure that was designed for a different time and a different population,” Faller told McClatchy.
“What’s the best combination that is most efficient, with the right level of guards and the right funding, while respecting that we have an important mission to do?”
Faller said any decisions would be mindful of the continued legal proceedings against the remaining detainees.
“It’s essential that the commission process move forward in a way that respects all aspects of the proceedings and gets to justice,” Faller said. “We want to look at this carefully, what are the right conditions, the right time, and move forward.”
Recommendations on the force-size requirements at Guantanamo Bay will be sent to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who is evaluating Southern Command’s resources as part of a global look at all the combatant commands, to see if the funding and resources committed to them line up with the National Defense Strategy, which focuses on resetting the military to be able to meet potential threats from China and Russia.
While there could be cuts at Guantanamo Bay, the Senate panel did not seem to favor any cuts to Southern Command’s size or mission throughout the rest of Central and South America. The command is working to counter increased influence and military presence by both Russia and China throughout that region.
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