The Colombian Navy carried out five combined operations in the Pacific and the Caribbean in coordination with the navies and coast guards of the United States, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, and Panama, as part of naval military strategy Orion. The operations resulted in the seizure of 19.5 tons of cocaine hydrochloride between April 1-30, 2018.
“International cooperation is a must in the fight against narcotrafficking,” Colombian Navy Vice Admiral Orlando Romero Reyes, commander of the Pacific Naval Fleet, told Diálogo. “The [strategy] will set a precedent for the future of sea operations.”
According to the Colombian Navy, partner nations conducted three combined naval operations in the Pacific. The U.S., Mexican, and Colombian navies participated in Operation Betelgeuse; the United States, Panama, Costa Rica, and Colombia carried out Operation Alnilam-Kraken; and Colombia and Ecuador executed Operation Rigel. In the Caribbean, Colombia and Nicaragua conducted Operation Alniltag, while Colombia and Honduras completed Operation Bellatrix.
“I’d like to thank the Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-South) for its participation in the naval operation,” Vice Adm. Romero said. “JIATF-South sets a precedent that integrates representatives from different countries and where we have a fusion center that allows us to understand narcotrafficking dynamics on a global level.”
JIATF-South is one of U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) three task forces. The force conducts detection and monitoring operations in the area the United States, South America, Central America, and the Caribbean share to intercept illegal trafficking in support of U.S. and partner nation security.
“Colombia has a great deal of responsibility, given that it’s the world’s leading producer of cocaine hydrochloride. Transnational organized crime cartels have moved; we already have some representatives of the Sinaloa Cartel [a Mexican criminal organization dedicated to narcotrafficking] in the country,” said Vice Adm. Romero. “Combined work strengthens the efficiency of operations against narcotrafficking, which makes the Pacific a safer region.”
Naval military strategy Orion
For operations to be effective, Pacific Naval Fleet surface units, including warships; ocean, coastal, and maritime patrol vessels; a helicopter; and rapid response boats deployed to interdict vessels. The Mexican Navy and U.S. Coast Guard deployed ocean patrol vessels and air platforms. Panama provided all of its rapid response units, a coastal patrol vessel, and two air platforms.
“Colombia reaffirmed the importance of cooperation and interdiction agreements,” Lieutenant Commander Carlos Torres Caraballo, supervisor of Pacific Operations for the Colombian Navy, told Diálogo. “It’s important to establish the appropriate dialogues and treaties in every country because the most delicate topic out there is intelligence information exchange.”
In addition to coordinating illicit trafficking interdiction work with JIATF-South during combined operations, the participating navies and coast guards coordinated with the Colombian Navy’s fusion centers. The centers form a naval network that unites regional efforts, capabilities, and information since 2014.
“Despite the large deployment, it isn’t enough to cover the entire Pacific Ocean. For example, Mexico has huge territorial waters and is one of the main destinations for the cocaine hydrochloride that leaves Colombia,” said Lt. Cmdr. Torres. “The alkaloid also enters Guatemala because criminal organizations find it easy to get drugs across the land border between Guatemala and Mexico.”
A successful experience
“The narcotrafficking transnational crime is asymmetric because gangs have a lot of money, advanced technology; they move around countries like a fish in water, and recruit criminals who deserted the peace process and know the terrain where they’ve committed crimes for a long time,” Vice Adm. Romero said. “Criminal structures have invisible groups that coordinate the distribution of money. That’s where intelligence services and international cooperation are essential to fight the entire narcotrafficking phenomenon.”
“We know the diagnosis and the difficulties that lie ahead. Our organization, our democracy, our system itself doesn’t move at the same speed as organized crime. That’s a challenge,” Vice Adm. Romero added. “Therefore, it makes sense to work hand in hand with countries that have good organizations, a wealth of experience, and can help us tackle the [narcotrafficking] phenomenon.”
Given the results, Colombia plans a second combined exercise. “Although we have different laws, we have common objectives, and those common goals allow us to integrate our capacities to conduct operations that impede narcotrafficking,” Lt. Cmdr. Torres said. “The Colombian Navy plans to implement more naval strategies that integrate the capacities of different countries’ navies based on three pillars: cooperation and integrated intelligence among different countries, fusion centers, and combined operations,” concluded Vice Adm. Romero.