CSL Comalapa, Strong Regional Partnership to Counter Illicit Trafficking

CSL Comalapa, Strong Regional Partnership to Counter Illicit Trafficking

By Geraldine Cook/Diálogo
April 22, 2019

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Around-the-clock multinational counter drug missions impact transnational criminal organizations.

The Cooperative Security Location (CSL) Comalapa, located at the Salvadoran Air Base of the same name, provides 24/7 logistics, security, and infrastructure support to partner nation and U.S. aircraft in their international counter narcotrafficking operations. The United States and the Salvadoran government signed a cooperative 10-year agreement in March 2000, since renewed to 2020, to operate the base. While U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) oversees its operations, the U.S. Navy manages its daily activities.

U.S. Navy Commander Addison G. Daniel, commanding officer of CSL Comalapa, spoke with Diálogo during a visit to the installation about the mission and the importance of the U.S. partnership with El Salvador, among other topics.

Diálogo: What is CSL Comalapa’s main focus with regard to Latin America and the Caribbean?

U.S. Navy Commander Addison G. Daniel, commanding officer of CSL Comalapa: Our mission is to provide operational support to both manned and unmanned aviation units who participate in Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-South)’s detection and monitoring mission. JIATF-South maintains our operational tasking. The support CSL provides is through multiple streams of resources like security, operations, administration, logistics, and medical. Our main focus in regard to SOUTHCOM’s area of operations is to intercept contacts in the Eastern Pacific’s realm of the maritime domain and may also extend operations into the Caribbean from time-to-time. Our mission supports SOUTHCOM’s security efforts by disrupting threat networks.

Diálogo: What are CSL Comalapa’s capabilities?

Cdr. Daniel: Our primary capability is to provide 24-hour flight operations, 365 days a year. We support a wide variety of aircraft, manned and unmanned, as well as rotary and fixed wing. We wouldn’t be able to do our mission without strong partnerships with the host nation and the interagency work within U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Department of Justice, among other agencies.

Diálogo: CSL Comalapa was created in 2000, at the Salvadoran Air Base installation. How has this benefitted its relationship and SOUTHCOM’s relationship with the Salvadoran government?

Cdr. Daniel: CSL, SOUTHCOM, and El Salvador each benefit from this agreement. CSL is one of several programs implemented throughout U.S. interagency [efforts] to improve security in El Salvador, in the region, and back home [in the United States]. El Salvador has 100 percent conviction rate for those who are caught trafficking narcotics with an average sentence of 12 years in prison. U.S. and El Salvador’ combined efforts create a big impact on transnational criminal organizations. As part of our great partnership with El Salvador, we offer many different opportunities for the Salvadoran community through local-hire contract positions, community relations events, and day-to-day operations. In 2018, CSL infused $11 million into the local economy.

As for SOUTHCOM, CSL represents a tangible commitment to El Salvador that is persistent, yet forward. CSL shows SOUTHCOM’s commitment to being a partner of choice in the Western Hemisphere among our allies, and it affords us the operating space to be effective when allocating resources across the region. Additionally, our geographical location also keeps us central to many of our partners.

Diálogo: How do you interact with partner nations during a specific operation?

Cdr. Daniel: We work with a number of interagency partners who through their ground work discover illicit networks—everyday they gather intelligence to gain information to create a case, develop, and prioritize shipments of interest, and then pass the information through JIATF-South. From there it comes to CSL Comalapa. Then, our flight crew receives the information to launch the detection and monitoring phase. As they go out across the maritime domain, they will monitor the ‘contacts of interest’ and report, so that the U.S. Coast Guard or the partner nation can proceed with the interdiction. When the interdiction phase begins, we rely upon the U.S. Coast Guard or the partner nation to carry out the law-enforcement piece since the interdiction and prosecution is through their respective departments of justice. When we work with any partner nations, we need to ensure we comply with the rule of law.

Diálogo: What combined initiatives does CSL Comalapa conduct with other Central American partner nations to counter transnational criminal organizations?

Cdr. Daniel: We conduct counter illicit trafficking by, with, and through all of our partners in the region, in particular, Central American nations. We also have a joint partnership with Canada, who routinely sends aviation assets to CSL Comalapa to participate under the umbrella of JIATF-South’s detection and monitoring mission. We also work from time to time with Joint Task Force-Bravo in Honduras.

Diálogo: CSL Comalapa has an important role in the fight against narcotrafficking in the region. How does this mission help reduce the impact of transnational drug trafficking organizations?

Cdr. Daniel: In 2018, we disrupted $6 billion worth of narcotics—the amount reflects only the street value of the drugs and does not factor in the cost of healthcare or other related expenses associated with a drug-ridden economy. This year, in February, CSL Comalapa had a mission with the Mexican authorities who carried out the endgame resulting in a $32-million bust. Our location and proximity to both source and vector countries make us particularly successful at removing drugs from illicit networks designed to move contraband throughout the world.

Diálogo: What’s the importance of real-time communications for successful operations in the fight against transnational criminal activities?

Cdr. Daniel: In the aviation community we practice Crew Resource Management (CRM), a system designed to promote safety that is useful in managing resources within any organized system. Central to the CRM theme is communication. Without real-time communications, organizing the system becomes—at best—degraded or at worst, chaotic. For our operations, real-time communications are a lifeline that means the difference between saving lives by stopping drugs or misdirecting valuable resources because we are looking in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Diálogo: How does CSL Comalapa work with partner nations to respond to humanitarian and search-and-rescue missions?

Cdr. Daniel: CSL is capable of supporting many aspects of humanitarian and rescue missions—whether acting as a staging, hub area for logistic support, or acting as a kind of rescue mission coordinator for operational support. Most recently we were a logistics hub during Beyond the Horizon, a joint annual exercise that provides medical, dental, and engineering services for Latin America and the Caribbean. Locally, we also work with the U.S. Embassy to prepare for and respond to a humanitarian crisis.

Diálogo: Would you like to add anything to our Diálogo readers?

Cdr. Daniel: This mission has been for me one of the most rewarding positions I have had in my military career. CSL is at the center of many important discussions occurring in Washington D.C. with regard to national security. There is not a day that goes by that we do not see a direct impact on the safety of people of El Salvador, the region, and the United States in general. I can’t thank El Salvador enough for the role they play in this tremendous partnership.