Colombia, US Review Counter Narcotrafficking Air Program

Colombia, US Review Counter Narcotrafficking Air Program

By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo
October 24, 2018

The Colombian Air Force and U.S. Southern Command strengthen information and air technology exchange programs.

The Colombian Air Force (FAC, in Spanish) and U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), through the Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-S), amended protocols and procedures of the Program for the Suppression of Illicit Aerial Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, also known as the Air Bridge Denial program (ABD), as part of an effort to protect the Colombian airspace. Authorities carried out revisions for ABD, which counters narcotrafficking with different security operations from both nations, in FAC’s Air Operations Command in Bogota, Colombia, September 16, 2018.

“We checked that procedures in the ABD program and the goal set by both nations were maintained to deny the illicit use of airspace,” FAC Lieutenant Colonel Oscar Jiménez, director of Air and Anti-missile Defense at the Air Operations Command, told Diálogo. “We also agreed to strengthen the program by adding highly qualified personnel and up-to-date technologies to confront threats more efficiently.”

The agreement, signed in 2003, is reviewed yearly. The objective is to align intelligence and communications to counter threats to the security, integrity, and sovereignty of Colombia’s territory. “The efficiency of the ABD program relies on denying narcotraffickers the use of airspace,” Lt. Col. Jiménez said.

Airspace violation

Air routes to smuggle drugs in the Colombian airspace have nearly disappeared. Operations coordinated with the U.S. Air Force favor preventive actions against aircraft that attempt to use the airspace for illegal activities, FAC said in a press release.

“Bringing the number down to zero doesn’t mean narcotraffickers stopped using the airspace for their activities. It means we must keep the agreement in force and be innovative to counter this scourge, as criminals get more creative to commit crimes,” Lt. Col. Jiménez said. “Denying the illegal use of airspace to transport drugs benefits both countries, because it affects the funding of [illegal] organizations and impacts the drug supply in the market.”

When the program kicked off, the U.S. government trained Colombian crews to perform air surveillance operations, which are subject to Colombian norms and procedures. “Thanks to the air personnel’s professionalism, FAC [now] manages this training,” Lt. Col. Jiménez said.

Military representatives of both countries renewed support to intelligence exchange. They also strengthened the use of platforms equipped to trace, detect, and record illicit aircraft activities.

“We will make the necessary decisions in terms of operational capability,” Colombian President Iván Duque told the press. “The commitment to security is everything; it will be reaffirmed with the ongoing work of the Armed Forces.”

Collaboration to close gaps

FAC oversees the ABD program and coordinates its work with other participating institutions, such as JIATF-S, one of SOUTHCOM’s task forces to help ensure partner nation security. JIATF-S verifies compliance with the program’s procedures for monitoring air and land security.

The program’s priority is to get illicit aircraft to land safely on the nearest airstrip under Colombian authority control. FAC has adequate procedures to avoid loss of life in the air and on land.

“Collaboration is essential, because it allows us to complete the capabilities of some forces with those of others, which helps us close the gaps to counter transnational crimes not only with the United States, but also with other countries in the region,” said Lt. Col. Jiménez. “The ABD program is one of a kind, but there are other information exchange programs, as well as programs to hand over illicit flights in the region that seek to impact narcotrafficking in an efficient way through mutual support and joint capabilities.”

Air and space control over the Colombian territory is FAC’s top priority. Authorities focus efforts on controlling and mastering aerial duties to support freedom of action in land, maritime, and air operations.

“Colombia wants to strengthen bonds with the United States, because they share the same democratic values and the eagerness to counter narcotrafficking,” said President Duque. “We will go on focusing all efforts on illegal drugs,” he said.