Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Southern Command Supports Guatemala in Urban Combat
By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo September 26, 2017Guatemalan Army engineers and members of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Southern Command (SPMAGTF-SC) are building training areas for urban operations within the 3rd Infantry Brigade “General Manuel Maximiliano Aguilar Santamaría,” in Jutiapa, Guatemala. The goal is to step up the fight against transnational criminal groups that operate in border areas. The construction project is part of the cooperation agreements between the Guatemalan government and U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), within the framework of the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, designed to reduce crime rates in the border areas of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. “Due to the threats we have on our southern border, SOUTHCOM’s Office of Security and Cooperation [OSC] and the Guatemalan Ministry of Defense [MINDEF] have agreed to build a MOUT [Military Operations in Urban Terrain] training site,” Marine Corps Colonel Ariel Salvador De León, the director of Logistics for MINDEF General Staff, told Diálogo. “[This] is to reinforce our units’ training and improve the cooperative efforts that the nations of the Northern Triangle are currently making.” In this context, 60 SPMAGTF-SC Marines are in Guatemala to exchange knowledge and experience with the Guatemalan Army Corps of Engineers. As a result, the service members are building a 1,000-square meter MOUT training site in the department of Jutiapa, 118 kilometers from the Guatemalan capital. The construction, valued at approximately $85,000, will have a practice area and four buildings with steps, hallways, and multiple rooms for military operations, two of which will be two stories. Military officials estimate that the work will be completed by December 2017 or January 2018. “The urban operations site will allow our personnel to train on complex military situations and tactics in urban terrain and on restricted movement and fast maneuvers above, below, and over the terrain,” said Guatemalan Army Corps of Engineers Second Lieutenant Sindy Cuculista, who is in charge of coordinating the work with Marines from SPMAGTF-SC. “They’ll also be able to practice the taking of buildings to clear or infiltrate them and hostage prevention and rescue.” Each building will have a raised area that will allow the instructors to observe and examine the actions of Guatemalan service members during training. “Applying these techniques and tactics will enable our combatants to carry out successful operations against criminal groups,” 2nd Lt. Cuculista added. In accordance with the MOUT site development plan, the group of marines decided to use special building materials, such as cinder blocks and stonework, to give the training a greater sense of realism. “This important, large-scale military initiative will boost our response strategy in the event of natural disasters and humanitarian aid in border areas,” Col. De León noted. Recovering capacities “Within our Integrated Defense Planning and Management System [SIPLAGDE, per its Spanish acronym], our cooperation with SOUTHCOM signifies the recovery of capacities to be more effective at the border,” Col. De León stated. SIPLAGDE is part of the transformation of Guatemalan Defense over the next 20 years. It was developed with support from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Institutional Reform Initiative, which promotes results-based planning according to capacities, programming, performance, and budgets. “The cooperation between Guatemala and SOUTHCOM is of high strategic value, given how these emerging threats have the capacity to move quickly because they manage quite important resources,” Col. De León underscored. “Limitations of personnel, equipment, and training would not allow us to carry out security operations in certain border spaces.” Guatemala shares more than 458 kilometers of border with El Salvador and Honduras. It has seven ports of entry at the border and 59 illegal vehicle crossings. These three countries, which comprise Central America’s Northern Triangle, are developing the Tri-National Task Force and Plan Fortaleza (Strength) to shield their shared borders and fight latent threats such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms trafficking, contraband, kidnapping, and gangs. With support from the United States, Plan Fortaleza is being implemented for the purpose of countering drug trafficking organizations that use the Transversal del Norte and El Naranjo routes to smuggle drugs and money. “SOUTHCOM is of enormous help to us in this process of defense transformation,” Col. De León said. “Thanks to their help, we can adjust our needs for developing the capacities that we require, in order to focus on the mission of border security.” Strong and solid institutions In addition to reinforcing training, equipping, and doctrine, Guatemalan Army personnel, and SPMAGTF-SC marines are giving their full dedication and professionalism to faithfully and efficiently completing their assigned mission. “The MOUT site initiative is a great opportunity to keep making our maximum effort to maintain strong and solid institutions,” 2nd Lt. Cuculista stated. “The knowledge learned and shared with the marines helps us in our professional achievement. We’re seeing ourselves involved in more and more projects.” Second Lieutenant Cuculista emphasized the teamwork and responsibility of participating in the development of the urban combat training site. “We get along quite well with the U.S. marines. The MOUT site is being built professionally and tailored to our actual needs. This is a job with quite a lot of responsibilities that strengthens our capacities, our bonds of friendship, and our reciprocity with Southern Command,” she concluded.