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JIATF South: The Strength of Relationships

JIATF South promotes interagency cooperation among partner nations and U.S. agencies to defeat international criminal organizations.
Geraldine Cook/ Diálogo | 9 September 2019

U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Pat DeQuattro, JIATF South director, says that his organization is built upon the strength of relationships with partner nations and U.S. agencies to combat narcotrafficking. (Photo: Geraldine Cook, Diálogo)

Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF South) conducts detection and monitoring operations of illicit trafficking in the air and maritime domains throughout the U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) area of operations. U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Pat DeQuattro, JIATF South Director, spoke with Diálogo during a visit to their installations at Naval Air Station Key West, Florida. The officer highlighted the importance of interagency cooperation to deter transregional organized crime.

Diálogo: What does JIATF South bring to the regional effort to counter security threats? 

U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Pat DeQuattro, JIATF South Director: JIATF South is built upon the strength of our relationships. We currently have 20 countries that are stakeholders in JIATF South (from Central and South America, the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada, and several European countries like the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and the Netherlands). We bring a trusted and established relationship that works together to address the global threat networks. We also work with 16 U.S. agencies to counter the threats. Our interagency efforts promote security in our Western Hemisphere because we are targeting threat networks responsible for violence, criminal activity, corruption, and the breakdown of the rule of law.

Diálogo: You mentioned the importance of trust between partner nations. What is the relevance of a partnership built on trust?

Rear Adm. DeQuattro: Trust is the bedrock for how we operate here. We have evolved over 30 years and our strength is that we bring together a unique organization of U.S. agencies and partner countries with their respected authorities, jurisdictions, and knowledge of the threat network we are addressing. Our mission is most effective when all partners trust each other.

Diálogo: What are the new methods that criminal international organizations are using to move their illicit goods in the region?  

Rear Adm. DeQuattro: There is a trend where the narcotics networks are pushing their products further south and west of the Galápagos Islands in the deep Eastern Pacific Transit Zone, which is a sign of success. Our partners from Central and South America made great progress in protecting their southern borders that have forced the narcotraffickers further out into the Eastern Pacific, so the trend is going further out to evade coalition forces. We also see a similar trend in the Caribbean Basin when it comes to air trafficking. Narcotics networks are taking advantage of Venezuela — there is a significant increase in the air traffic that flows in and out of the country — and these are dark targets that are smuggling drugs and money in and out of Venezuela.

Diálogo: What combined efforts does JIATF South conduct with partner nations in the region to fight transnational criminal? 

Rear Adm. Pat DeQuattro: We have established Campaign Martillo, where we coordinate and synchronize the employment of aircraft ships and ground forces to address the traditional flow of narcotics, both in the Caribbean Basin and in the Eastern Pacific. We are also supporting partner nations that have taken a regional leadership role to fight these networks. For example, Colombia focuses on combatting the production and flow of cocaine from their country, and we are supporting their government and armed forces in their Operation Orion, a multinational counterdrug trafficking operation in international waters.

Diálogo: What has been the most successful result of Operation Martillo since it began in 2012? 

Rear Adm. DeQuattro: Collaboration is the most successful effort of the Martillo campaign as our Central American, South American and Caribbean partners, as well as Mexico, work together. We are cooperating and coordinating our aircraft and maritime asset patrol boats in intercepting boats to target smuggling vessels, regardless of the country they are coming from or what their destination is.

Diálogo: What interdiction successes can JIATF South report for the first semester of 2019? 

Rear Adm. DeQuattro: Through our interagency efforts, JIATF South’s partners seized over 150 metric tons [of drugs]. This success also comes with the support to apprehend and prosecute hundreds of suspected smugglers.

Diálogo: How do you see the capabilities and capacity response of partner nations in their effort to combat illicit trafficking? 

Rear Adm. DeQuattro: Partner nations play an absolutely critical role. We see the capabilities, the political will, and the energy behind our partner nations that continue to build. Our partner nations make up about 40 percent of the seizures and disruptions where JIATF South participates. They have been more aggressive with interdictions at sea, as they are going further out away from the coast and are getting new capabilities, many of them supported by the U.S. Department of Defense’s programs, within their respective countries.

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