Orión, Regional Maritime Campaign to Counter Narcotrafficking

Orión, Regional Maritime Campaign to Counter Narcotrafficking

By Geraldine Cook / Diálogo
October 15, 2019

Colombian Navy Vice Admiral Gabriel Alfonso Pérez Garcés, chief of Naval Operations, spoke with Diálogo about Orión, a maritime and riverine campaign that strengthens interdiction operations to disrupt transnational narcotrafficking networks and related crimes.

Diálogo: What does the Orión Maritime and Riverine Campaign consist of?

Colombian Navy Vice Admiral Gabriel Alfonso Pérez Garcés, chief of Naval Operations: Orión is an initiative that arose from the efforts of the United States through Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), the Mexican Navy, and the Colombian Navy in 2017. This initiative combines the efforts of regional navies to work in a coordinated, simultaneous way to counter maritime narcotrafficking, using their own capabilities. The objective of the campaign is to disrupt and interdict illicit activities related to narcotrafficking at sea and to attack its structures. Likewise, the campaign creates cooperation networks among countries’ national authorities and participating agencies.

Diálogo: Why is it important for the Colombian Navy to lead this campaign?

Vice Adm. Pérez: Colombia understands its responsibility in the fight against narcotrafficking, especially because it’s a coca-leaf producer. The Navy has to protect Colombian maritime areas in the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. There is also a close bilateral relationship and a shared interest with the United States to fight against the flow of drugs to international markets. Colombia takes advantage of the knowledge and experience gained in the fight against drugs to share it with the region. We understand that this is a regional problem that needs to be addressed by all countries in the hemisphere, since we are all affected, either directly or indirectly, by the illicit business of narcotrafficking. Our leadership consists of addressing this common target together with the international community.

Diálogo: What countries and agencies participate, and how is combined coordination carried out for interdiction operations?

Vice Adm. Pérez: Orión is a multinational campaign that considers the strategic, legal, and operational aspects of each country and adapts to its particular capabilities and doctrines. The navies of 22 countries and specific institutions, such as Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF South), the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre – Narcotics (MAOC-N), and French Customs, among others, support the campaign. Operational coordination starts with the planning process, which is conducted bilaterally between the Colombian Navy and each country and agency involved.

Diálogo: How did you develop the phases of the Orión campaign?

Vice Adm. Pérez: Orión started in 2018, and we’ve conducted four phases so far. We had to be proactive when designing each phase to be successful when confronting criminal narcotrafficking organizations, which are continuously changing and adapting and are equipped with resources and logistical means to achieve their criminal purposes. Each phase yielded experiences and valuable lessons that enabled us to strengthen our combined actions.

Diálogo: What lessons have you learned from Orión so far?

Vice Adm. Pérez: There are many lessons learned, but the most important is that the fight against narcotrafficking must be addressed in a coordinated way by all the countries in the region and their agencies. We are all part of the problem, and we all have different capabilities to contribute to this process, because an isolated country that operates on its own and doesn’t share efforts cannot counter narcotrafficking in an effective way.

Diálogo: What type of cooperation exists with SOUTHCOM to carry out the Orión campaign?

Vice Adm. Pérez: The campaign has a strategic partner, which is SOUTHCOM, especially because it has JIATF South as one of its main capabilities in the fight against drugs. JIATF South combines a number of agencies, resources, and liaisons. Without these assets, Orión would be very limited. SOUTHCOM’s effort to provide ships, units, and aircraft to cover the area of operations is essential.

Diálogo: What is Orión’s greatest success?

Vice Adm. Pérez: Orión has seized tons of drugs and captured countless people and vessels. However, its great success is the multilateral integration of efforts from the navies, countries, organizations, and institutions that support it. Orión created an international coalition in the region to fight against maritime narcotrafficking.