The Special Forces Group (AFFE, in Spanish) of the Panamanian National Border Service (SENAFRONT, in Spanish) strengthened its capabilities in troop leadership, decision making, improvised explosive device deactivation, aeromedical evacuation techniques, and planning during retraining sessions led by the U.S. military at the headquarters of SENAFRONT’s Eastern Brigade in Metetí village, Darién province, near the Colombian border.
“These exercises are covered under agreements between Panama and the United States that enable security updates and technological preparation to confront new threats,” Major Oriel De Gracia, who led AFFE during the training, told Diálogo. “In addition, other existing threats in the country, such as narcotrafficking, constantly change, and they [U.S. service members] have a lot of useful information to counter these crimes.”
“In some places, units must have special skills to enter due to the difficult terrain or the need to confront organized crime, such as narcotraffickers. To that end, constant training is necessary,” said Maj. De Gracia.
According to AFFE First Sergeant Oldemar Pinto, who participated in the training, the experience was beneficial, because “as a commando, you need to know a little bit of everything, never stop learning to keep up to date, and understand that training leads to success.”
Other skills practiced included aeromedical evacuation maneuvers with helicopters in hard-to-reach areas, in this case, the jungle. The training coincided with the delivery, from the U.S. government, of six UH-1H helicopters for SENAFRONT forces, in late June. The handover, according to Roxanne Cabral, Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Panama, seeks to support security forces to “erect a protective barrier around the Darién area to curb criminal activities and protect its citizens.”
AFFE focuses on countering organized crime, such as drug, human, and arms trafficking, and other high-risk criminal activities. In early August, authorities captured a Sri Lankan national at the Colombian border who attempted to enter the country and had a red security alert for his connections to organized crime. In late July, AFFE units also detained two Panamanians in Darién for the illicit trafficking of more than 100 migrants. In the same period, SENAFRONT seized more than 1,500 kilograms of cocaine in the region.