SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Seeking to strengthen regional cooperation and counter transnational organized crime in Central America, senior military and civilian leaders from 13 Western Hemisphere nations met in San Salvador April 18-19 during the 2012 Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC).
The two-day conference, co-hosted by U.S. Southern Command and the Armed Forces of El Salvador, included briefings, discussions and meetings during which attendees discussed the integration of their operations to collectively target transnational criminal networks and strengthen regional information sharing.
Speaking to participants about the complexity of operations that support drug trafficking organizations in the hemisphere, Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser
, Commander of U.S. Southern Command, noted that SOUTHCOM is increasingly focusing as much on criminal networks as it does on geography when analyzing illicit trafficking trends in its area of responsibility.
“It is organizations and people who are conducting this enterprise,” he said, citing “transportistas” who coordinate illicit shipments and technicians who construct sophisticated submersible vessels as examples of individuals supporting what he described as criminal networks.
Fraser encouraged attendees to view themselves as one “important network” working to counter another.
Participants were updated on Operation Martillo
, a multinational monitoring, detection and interdiction operation that began in January with support from countries represented in CENTSEC, as well as European nations. Martillo has persistently targeted illicit trafficking routes along Central America’s coastal waters, leveraging the collective capabilities of 16 nations to disrupt the illegal shipment of drugs, precursor chemicals, bulk cash and weapons by transnational criminal organizations.
“The operations here are closer and better than I’ve ever seen before and they’re across all domains -- air, land and sea; and there are tremendous results we’ve had so far from Operation Martillo,” said U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Charles Michel, Director of Joint Interagency Task Force South, the organization responsible for overseeing detection and monitoring operations and facilitating the interdiction of illicit trafficking in SOUTHCOM’s area of responsibility.
“To date, we have disrupted about 25 metric tons of cocaine and other drugs, we have detained over 50 people, and we continue to have an impact on their operations,” Fraser told reporters as he informed them on the progress of the operation during an early morning press conference April 18.
Briefing attendees on SOUTHCOM’s ongoing effort with regional partners to develop tools that improve information sharing and multinational collaboration, U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Steven Shepro, Director of SOUTHCOM’s Strategy, Policy and Plans directorate, highlighted the work done to date to evaluate common technology platforms and incorporate them incrementally in support of regional collaboration objectives and activities.
The platforms developed with CENTSEC partners for that purpose include the All Partner Access Network (APAN), a web-based collaboration and information sharing tool, and the Cooperative Sensor and Information Integration (CSII) Program, a tool that integrates data from sensors, such as radars and automated identification systems, to support multinational monitoring and detection operations.
Fraser said he’d like to see enhanced information sharing and collaborative capabilities yield new advantages in anticipating how transnational criminal organizations will respond when their illicit trafficking operations are consistently disrupted.
“Our real challenge is to understand and to detect when and how the traffickers are moving and then shift our operations in anticipation of that, so that there is constant pressure on those trafficking organizations,” he explained.
Fraser underscored that military efforts to counter transnational organized crime are only part of the overall solution, citing U.S. assistance programs under bilateral initiatives like the Partnership for Growth between the U.S. and El Salvador and regional initiatives like the Central American Regional Security Initiative
as examples of ongoing efforts to help Central American partners strengthen institutional capacity across the whole of government and implement social programs that offer at-risk youth alternatives to crime and violence.
El Salvador first hosted CENTSEC in 2008. Belize, Guatemala and Honduras have also previously hosted the annual security conference. This year’s CENTSEC follows recent regional security conferences with defense and security leaders from South America
and the Caribbean
hosted, by Chile, and St. Kitts and Nevis respectively.