Task Force Trident Intensifies Fight Against Drug Trafficking in El Salvador
By Dialogo May 04, 2016
The Salvadoran Navy's Task Force Trident is dismantling narco-trafficking organizations operating in the turbulent waters of the Pacific Ocean, thanks to the intensive training of its members and the support of the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). The force, which was formed in October 2015, has used special interdiction techniques in operations that have struck heavy blows against groups trying to bring cocaine from South America to the United States.
“This special task force has improved its capabilities through expertise shared by SOUTHCOM, particularly to improve interdictions," said Major General Félix Edgardo Núñez Escobar, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces of El Salvador. "The result can be seen in the various seizures that have been made, preventing these drugs from reaching the black market in the United States."
The Task Force Trident's most recent operation on April 8th included the capture of three Ecuadorians and the seizure of 497 kilograms of cocaine worth about $12.5 million during an interdiction off the coast of the department of Sonsonate. Two days later, the Navy confiscated 795 kilograms of cocaine it found tied to buoys floating in the sea. The drugs were valued at nearly $20 million.
“Thanks to the constant work being done by Task Force Trident, we are prosecuting people for the crime of drug trafficking who could face penalties of up to 20 years in prison under our current criminal code,” said Cecilia Rivera, the Chief of the Specialized Anti-Narcotics Unit of the Attorney General’s Office.
On March 16th, the Task Force Trident, which is part of the Joint Group Cuscatlán – an interagency task force that combats narco-trafficking nationwide – intercepted a boat sailing under an Ecuadorian flag off the coast of the department of La Paz. Its crew was transporting 280 kilograms of cocaine valued at approximately $7 million, based on the price of $25,000 per kilo on the United States' black market.
“There is coordination and interagency work, with our special forces constantly monitoring the territorial sea and responding to international alerts,” said one Task Force Trident member who could not be identified due to operational safety reasons.
Eleven days later, the task force stopped a boat transporting 600 kilograms of cocaine – worth about $15 million on the U.S. black market – off the Sonsonate coast. “The support of Task Force Trident through the Joint Group Cuscatlán has been invaluable because in a very short period of time it has allowed us to raise the level of efficiency in the fight against drug trafficking,” said Commissioner Juan Carlos Martínez, Deputy Director of Investigations with the National Civil Police during the presentation of the seizure.
Task Force Trident receives assistance from the United States based on the January 2009 Letter of Agreement of the Central American Regional Security Initiative that facilitates coordination between Joint Group Cuscatlán and the Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-S), which is based in Key West in the state of Florida.
“The mission of the Trident Force is to protect national maritime territory with operations to combat international drug trafficking, through direct interagency coordination and with friendly countries," Salvadoran Navy Chief of Staff René Merino said. "In this way, we are able to raise the level of effectiveness,”
Joint Group Cuscatlán has collaborated with Operation MARTILLO, an effort led JIATF-S to neutralize transnational criminal organizations by limiting their ability to use Central America as a transit area. Operation MARTILLO combines the forces of 10 countries in the Americas – Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Canada, and the United States – along with France, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom to improve security and peace throughout the region.
The operation has focused its efforts in northwestern Honduras and northern Guatemala over the past year because 80 percent of drug trafficking to the United States crosses both countries' northern areas, according to the Salvadoran Armed Forces.