The Cable

Pentagon Latin America official to depart

One of the Pentagon's top officials dealing with Latin America, Frank Mora, will leave government after next week, he told friends in an e-mail obtained by The Cable.

"As many of you know, next Friday, January 25, will be my last day as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Western Hemisphere (DASD-WHA)," Mora wrote in the e-mail. "In June, my family and I will be heading to Miami where I've accepted the position of Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center (LACC) and Professor of Politics and International Relations at Florida International University (FIU). My family and I looking forward to going back home and taking on this wonderful opportunity afforded to us by FIU."

Mora served as DASD-WHA for almost four years, under Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas' Security Affairs led by Paul Stockton.  The joining of homeland security and Latin America never made sense to many when it was announced as part of a reorganization of the Pentagon's policy shop in 2009, but Mora's portfolio included defense cooperation with South and Latin American countries as well as coordination between U.S. Northern Command and Southern Command.

From 2004 to 2009 Mora was Professor of National Security Strategy and Latin American Studies at the National Defense University. He has also worked as a consultant to the Library of Congress, the Air Force, the Army, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), the National Democratic Institute, the State Department, the Organization of American States, the Joint Staff, and U.S. Southern Command. 

Mora has also worked observing elections in several countries, including Paraguay, Peru and El Salvador, according to his Defense Department biography. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Miami Herald, La Tercera (Chile), Wall Street Journal, CNN, Los Angeles Times, El Tiempo (Colombia), National Public Radio, Voice of America, and USA Today. He is the author or editor of five books and holds a B.A. in International Affairs from The George Washington University, as well as an M.A. in Inter-American Studies and a Ph.D. in International Affairs from the University of Miami 

No replacement for Mora at the Pentagon has yet been announced. In the meatime, Principal Director Walter Earle will serve as acting DASD-WHA.

In his e-mail, Mora thanked the White House, the Pentagon, the regional partners, and the OSD-WHA team for what he termed a "priceless" opportunity to serve.

"I can't find the words to truly express how much I respect/admire all of you," he said. "If I was in any way successful as a DASD, it was largely due to your hard work and commitment to public service. It was my honor."

The Cable

White House: We don’t know if American hostages in Algeria are alive or dead

The U.S. government is trying to determine now whether or not the  seven Americans reportedly being held hostage by Islamic militants in Algeria are still alive.

Several reports Thursday said that 25 hostages escaped and six were killed when Algerian forces mounted an operation to free the hostages in the remote desert gas plant where they were being held.

Three more hostages were reportedly freed by the Algerian army in a subsequent operation. A total of 41 hostages have been held since Wednesday morning, as part of what military groups called retaliation for the French attacks on Islamist groups in Mali that began last weekend, according to a statement by one of the militant groups Al Mulathameen, which has links to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

At Thursday's White House press briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney said there's no definitive information on whether the Americans are among the dead or the living.

"We are in contact with Algerian authorities and our international partners as well as with BP's security office in London. Unfortunately, the best information we have at this time, as I said, indicates that U.S. citizens are among the hostages. But we don't have, at this point, more details to provide to you. We're certainly concerned about reports of loss of life and are seeking clarity from the government of Algeria," he said.

"But at this point you can't say whether those Americans are alive or dead?" a reporter asked Carney.

"I just can only say that we are deeply concerned about any loss of innocent life and are seeking clarity from the government of Algeria," he said.

Carney declined to confirm reports that at least one unarmed U.S. drone was deployed to the skies above the Algerian gas facility in support of the rescue operations there. He also declined to confirm that the hostage takers have links to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) or say whether or not the Algerian government consulted Washington before carrying out the deadly rescue mission.

"Our priority is determining the status of the Americans involved and gaining a full understanding of what took place," he said. "We are seeking clarity from the Algerian government about this matter, and obviously we are focused most intently on the status of Americans."

The United States is proving intelligence support and airlift support to the French troops operating in Mali, helping them move troops and equipment, Carney said. The French have made several other requests for U.S. support that the administration is still considering.

President Barack Obama is being regularly updated on the Algeria situation but hasn't gotten involved personally by making any phone calls to world leaders, Carney said. AQIM does not threaten the United States directly but does threaten U.S. interests, he said.

"We work with our allies to counter the activities of AQIM," said Carney. "And clearly, AQIM and affiliated extremist groups do pose a threat to our interests in that region, even if they have not posed a direct threat to the homeland like al Qaeda central in Afghanistan and Pakistan or al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula."Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal Wednesday and is expected to speak with him again today.

"The phone call was, as you can imagine, a hundred percent about this situation, about our willingness to be helpful about what might be needed, about the desire to keep lines of communication open," State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said today.