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SOUTHCOM Missions

Supporting Regional Security Initiatives

Throughout the Western Hemisphere, citizens and political leaders understand that regional challenges to security, such as poverty, illegal drugs, and violent organized criminal groups, are a common threat that cannot be countered by any single nation. Along with its counterparts in the American government – particularly the Department of State and USAID – SOUTHCOM supports regional collaborations to create a secure and prosperous hemisphere.

The Secure Seas program, which builds on the foundation laid by Enduring Friendship, began delivering boats, communications systems, and training to nine Caribbean nations in May 2012. Both programs are aimed, ultimately, at facilitating a collective maritime security approach to counter regional threats.

The trafficking threat in the Caribbean and Latin America is multifaceted, and SOUTHCOM is engaged in several initiatives aimed at countering it on different fronts. For example, the command spearheaded the Enduring Friendship program, a multi-year maritime security assistance initiative that provided six partner nations, in both the Caribbean and Central America, with high-speed interceptor boats. The boats, fitted with state-of-the-art communications and radar, have increased maritime domain awareness and interoperability among participating nations. The Secure Seas program, which builds on the foundation laid by Enduring Friendship, began delivering boats, communications systems, and training to nine Caribbean nations in May 2012. Both programs are aimed, ultimately, at facilitating a collective maritime security approach to counter regional threats.

Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH)

Army Brig. Gen. Sean P. Mullholland, commander of Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH), speaks with a Peruvian special operations member during a combined U.S.-Peruvian special operations exercise in the Pasco region, located in central Peru, May 7, 2013. As the special operations component for U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), SOCSOUTH, headquartered at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla., assists special operations partners across Central and South America and the Caribbean in building their military capacity. U.S. Department of Defense photo by Maj. Emanuel Ortiz

Secure Seas is itself part of the CBSI, a broader regional security partnership announced by President Barack Obama at the 2009 Summit of the Americas. CBSI brings together all 15 members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM, a collective that promotes economic integration) and the Dominican Republic to jointly collaborate on regional security, with the United States as a partner. The CBSI has three primary objectives: reducing illegal trafficking; increasing public safety and security; and promoting social justice. While Secure Seas is a program element focusing on military maritime capabilities, the CBSI takes a whole-of-government approach to citizen safety; its members have identified several priority areas for cooperation, and the United States has, through the initiative’s first three years, committed $203 million to the CBSI in the areas of maritime and aerial security cooperation; law enforcement capacity-building; border/port security and firearms interdiction; justice sector reforms; and crime prevention, especially among at-risk youth.

In support of CBSI, SOUTHCOM, along with DHS, is at the heart of the effort to facilitate technology transfers aimed at improving partners’ ability to detect and interdict illegal shipments at international crossings, airports, and seaports.

SOUTHCOM’s support of regional collaborations is modeled on the State Department’s articulation of a three-dimensional, or “3-D,” foreign policy, built on diplomacy, development, and defense. In regional engagements such as CBSI, the Department of State spearheads diplomatic efforts; USAID supports development; and SOUTHCOM, through programs such as Secure Seas, helps to boost the collective defensive capabilities in the region. In support of CBSI, SOUTHCOM, along with DHS, is at the heart of the effort to facilitate technology transfers aimed at improving partners’ ability to detect and interdict illegal shipments at international crossings, airports, and seaports.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Coast Guard

A St. Vincent and the Grenadines Coast Guard interceptor returns to port after a day of multiple boat pursuit drills during Tradewinds 2013, May 28, 2013. Tradewinds 2013 is a joint, combined exercise conducted in conjunction with partner nations to enhance the collective abilities of defense forces and constabularies to counter Transnational Organized Crime and to conduct humanitarian and disaster relief operations. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Paul Seeber

The command also provides training and equipment to partner nations’ ground forces, through its various bilateral and multilateral Theater Security Cooperation Initiatives, in order to build their capacity to militarily respond to transnational crime-related events. The CSDI, for example, is a sustained SOUTHCOM effort to provide training, logistical support, and information-sharing assistance to Colombia’s military and security forces as they work to thwart narco-terrorist activity and the violence and instability that stem from it.

Another broad-based, whole-of-government collaborative, the CARSI, aimed at improving citizen safety in the region, has funded capacity-building efforts since 2008 in Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. In this region, SOUTHCOM’s efforts focus particularly on choke points for cocaine destined for the United States. The expansion of Mexican crime organizations into Central America, and especially into this vulnerable Mexico/Guatemala/Belize border region, has led the command to engage in planning efforts with interagency partners, partner-nation militaries, and the U.S. Northern Command, which is responsible for protecting national interests in all of North America including Mexico. Together, these allies are developing a regional cooperative capability among these three crucial nations.

The expansion of Mexican crime organizations into Central America, and especially into this vulnerable Mexico/Guatemala/Belize border region, has led the command to engage in planning efforts with interagency partners, partner-nation militaries, and the U.S. Northern Command, which is responsible for protecting national interests in all of North America including Mexico.

 

Training and Exercises

Every year, SOUTHCOM sponsors a variety of multinational exercises designed to strengthen regional partnerships and collective capabilities. These exercises, which increase the capabilities of both the U.S. military and partner nations, are aimed at strengthening the security and stability of the entire Western Hemisphere.

In addition to its annual humanitarian and disaster relief events, the command sponsors training and exercises in several categories, including:

Security, Illegal Migration, and Illicit Trafficking Exercises

  • UNITAS. SOUTHCOM’s flagship naval exercise is the longest-running multinational maritime training exercise in the world; since 1960, the annual series has brought together the region’s militaries to address common security challenges. UNITAS is designed to train participating forces in a variety of maritime scenarios and to promote interoperability by fostering cooperation and understanding among participating navies.
  • Fuerzas Aliadas (Allied Forces) PANAMAX. Designed to train U.S. and partner nations in stability operations in the Panama Canal Zone, in support of United Nations Security Council resolutions, PANAMAX involves not only partners in the region, but also partners from nations who are users of the canal. The exercises are designed to improve interoperability of military and civil forces to assist Panama, guarantee safe passage through the canal, and ensure the canal’s neutrality.
  • Tradewinds. An exercise conducted in cooperation with Caribbean Basin partner nations to counter transnational security threats in the region. Training programs focus on maritime tactics and operations, and make use of classroom instruction and joint, combined, and interagency drills. Tradewinds 2013, for example, which began May 20, 2013, in St. Lucia, brought together more than 260 law enforcement officers, military personnel, and government representatives from 14 partner nations to engage in live-fire at-sea exercises, a simulated counter-drug boarding and seizure, and training in littoral patrolling, small boat operations, engineering, maritime law enforcement, and operations center procedures.
  • 
Southern Partnership Station (SPS). An annual SOUTHCOM-led exercise implemented by the U.S. Navy’s 4th Fleet, SPS is designed to strengthen civil and maritime capabilities in the Caribbean and Central and South America. SPS 2013, conducted from February through May, involved a 100-member crew, with members from all U.S. military branches, aboard the Navy’s high-speed vessel Swift (HSV 2), who conducted expert exchanges and orientations at ports throughout Central America and the Caribbean. The knowledge and expertise shared in these port visits will help participating countries improve capabilities in key mission areas. SPS 2013 exercises included a joint U.S. Navy/Belizean coast guard training session in law enforcement techniques, such as observation and assessment; handcuffing; personal, vehicle, and building searches; rapid response; and tactical movement.
  • Southern Seas. A U.S. Navy operational deployment combined with engagement and training opportunities. During Southern Seas 2012, a six-month deployment from May to October, the guided-missile frigate USS Underwood (FFG 36) and embarked units participated in numerous exercises and multinational exchanges to improve operational readiness and enhance regional relationships.

Peacekeeping Exercises

Until 2013, when sequestration and federal budget cuts forced SOUTHCOM to cancel its annual exercise, Peacekeeping Operations-Americas (PKO) provided readiness and training opportunities for U.S. military and participating forces to improve their abilities to engage in United Nations multinational peacekeeping operations. The exercises generally focus on the exchange of inter-regional peacekeeping tactics, battalion- and company-level training, and the exchange of information between multinational and joint forces. At these exercises, experienced service members share their peacekeeping experiences to develop and practice the doctrine and rules of engagement for peacekeeping activities.

Joint Task Force-Bravo (JTF-Bravo)

A U.S. Army paratrooper guides fellow Honduran paratroopers onto a CH-47 Chinook helicopter during a combined airborne exercise conducted by Joint Task Force-Bravo, July 20, 2012. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Christopher Diaz

PKO 2012, a multinational command post exercise hosted by the government of Chile, was held in April and May 2012 and included more than 300 representatives from regional armed forces, government agencies, and NGOs. Sixteen Western Hemisphere nations participated. The scenario-based exercises in PKO 2012 challenged participants’ abilities to implement and sustain United Nations Security Council peacekeeping standards.
SOUTHCOM’s sponsorship of PKO exercises supports the U.S. Department of State’s Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI), launched in 2004 at the G-8 Sea Island Summit.

Counterterrorism Exercises

The competition, which consists of 17 grueling events designed to test the physical strength, endurance, and tactical abilities of competitors, showcases the best of the Western Hemisphere’s elite military forces.

Budget cuts also eliminated SOUTHCOM’s annual counterterrorism exercise, Fuerzas Comando (Commando Forces), a friendly but demanding competition that puts the counterterrorism tactics, techniques, and procedures of special operations forces to the test.

Fuerzas Comando 2012, hosted at the Colombian National Training Center from June 6-14, brought together security forces from 21 different countries, including the United States. The competition, which consists of 17 grueling events designed to test the physical strength, endurance, and tactical abilities of competitors, showcases the best of the Western Hemisphere’s elite military forces. Each 2012 participant sent an assault team, a sniper team, and one evaluator to participate in the skills competition, and two distinguished visitors to take part in the Senior Leader Seminar. At the peak of the exercise, about 700 military, law enforcement, and civilian personnel took part.

Fuerzas Comando, established in 2004, is designed to build camaraderie and strengthen bonds among the nations involved, to promote cooperation on common issues, and, through a better understanding of each others’ tactics and capabilities, to increase interoperability and improve regional security.

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Craig Collins is a veteran freelance writer and a regular Faircount Media Group contributor who...