Interagency Task Force Confronts Drug Trafficking

Interagency Task Force Confronts Drug Trafficking

By Geraldine Cook
July 14, 2011

The poppy fields of Afghanistan — a major revenue source for the insurgency there — may seem a million miles away from U.S. Pacific Command’s headquarters in Hawaii.

The poppy fields of Afghanistan — a major revenue source for the insurgency there — may seem a million miles away from U.S. Pacific Command’s headquarters in Hawaii.

Yet the production and trafficking of acetic anhydride — a chemical produced in the Pacific and shipped to Afghanistan, where it’s used to transform opium into heroin — is one of the big concerns of Joint Interagency Task Force West, explained Tom Wood, its deputy director of operations.

The task force, focused on supporting counternarcotics operations in Asia and the Pacific, recognizes the link between drug trafficking, U.S. national security and regional stability, Wood told American Forces Press Service.

JIATF West is one of three interagency task forces that work in partnership with regional nations to confront this scourge. JIATF South, based in Key West, Florida, supports the counternarcotics fight within U.S. Southern Command’s area of focus. JTF North, part of U.S. Northern Command, focuses predominantly on the southwestern U.S. border.

Acetic anhydride production and trafficking is just one of JIATF West’s pressing challenges, Wood said. Others are the industrial-scale production of chemicals illicitly trafficked to the Western Hemisphere to produce methamphetamines, and the flow of drugs from the Western Hemisphere to China, Australia and other parts of Asia.

To address these challenges in an area of focus that spans half the globe, JIATF West promotes collaboration between U.S. and foreign law enforcement agencies and other federal agencies to support their efforts.

“We use as much of U.S. and [Defense Department] intelligence assets as we can to contribute to this fight,” Wood said. “Part of the success of what we do is the fact that we work with foreign partners and exchange information. While we don’t physically do the operations, we team with them and combine our efforts for the goal of cutting back on counternarcotics flows trans-regionally.”

But an equally important part of JIATF West’s mission is to help 36 partner nations in the region improve their own counternarcotics capabilities, Wood explained.

“We spend a good fraction of our effort on the partner nation capacity-building piece of the counternarcotics fight,” Wood said. “That is where we can be most effective in combating the transnational crime problem out here in the Pacific.”

Pacific Command has 36 partner nations in Asia and Pacific, many of them struggling with drug challenges of their own. But Wood said the impact extends beyond the partners’ own borders, contributing to regional instability.

JIATF West’s partner support focuses heavily on the maritime domain and helping partner nations build capacity within their maritime police or coast guards. This runs the gamut, Wood explained, from helping nations develop the physical infrastructure and bases needed to project power within their sovereign waters to deploying trainers to help them close capability gaps.

“What we are trying to do is essentially teach a man to fish,” he said. “We are not creating dependency. We are creating a sustainable capability that these forces can use over the long haul.”