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Countering Transnational Organized Crime

We work with our partners to address the growing threat of transnational organized crime in the Caribbean, Central America and South America.  Drug trafficking represents the epicenter of illicit trafficking, serving as the predominant means by which Transnational Criminal Organizations obtain money and increased power in the region.

Department of Defense Role Explained

U.S. Coast Guardsmen conduct an interdiction at sea.  File Photo.We are committed to working with our partners to counter transnational criminal organizations and illicit networks that threaten citizen safety and the stability of several Central American partner nations.  Our approach is nested with the White House Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime and complements the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), and Merida Initiative.  This approach recognizes the leading role of other federal agencies in the whole-of-government effort to counter illicit trafficking, and leverages our unique capabilities, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, as well as our ability to conduct network analysis, to secure the southern approaches to the United States.

It is essential we focus security cooperation activities where they are most effective.  To this end, we place priority on improving maritime, air, and land domain awareness capabilities in the Northern Tier countries of Central America where the threat and disruption posed by transnational criminal organizations is greatest.  In the Caribbean, we continue to support the development of a regional maritime interdiction strategy.   U.S. Southern Command will continue to provide equipment and training to improve regional maritime and air domain awareness.

Focus on Central America

We are currently focused on strengthening the security capacities of our partners in Central America.  As the lead U.S. agency responsible for directing illicit trafficking detection and monitoring activities, SOUTHCOM is undertaking operational and tactical activity in support of whole-of-government efforts to counter transnational organized crime in the maritime approaches to Central America. 

Illicit Trafficking Focus

A primary focus of SOUTHCOM’s Countering Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) efforts is supporting the interdiction of drug trafficking.  SOUTHCOM collaborates with other agencies and nations to support CTOC efforts through detection & monitoring, information sharing, and partner nation capacity building.

Detection and monitoring

File photo of the guided-missile frigate USS Nicholas (FFG 47). The DoD is the lead federal agency in efforts to detect and monitor aerial and maritime transit of illegal drugs towards the United States. The Key West, Fla.-based Joint Interagency Task Force South is the National Task Force that serves as the catalyst for integrated and synchronized interagency counter-illicit trafficking operations, and is responsible for the detection and monitoring of suspect air and maritime drug activity in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and the eastern Pacific. JIATF South also collects, processes, and disseminates counter drug information for interagency and partner nation operations.

The U.S. military commits a variety of forces in the region to support detection and monitoring efforts. 

MARITIME: Normally, U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and partner nation (British, French, Dutch, Canadian and Colombian) ships patrol the waters in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and the eastern Pacific on a year-round basis.  Embarked on U.S., and at times allied nation naval vessels, are Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments that take the lead during operations to board suspected vessels, seize illegal drugs, and apprehend suspects.  These forces also work closely with other regional partner nation coast guard and naval forces to provide support to board, search and seizure operations within partner nation territorial waters.

AIR: U.S. military, interagency and partner nation aircraft work together to support detection and monitoring missions.  The aircraft are located throughout the region and at two Cooperative Security Locations (CSLs) in Comalapa, El Salvador and in Curacao and Aruba, formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles (see more on CSL operations).  These aircraft, in cooperation with partner nations and U.S. agencies, fly persistent missions to monitor areas with a history of illicit trafficking.  The U.S. aircraft offer unique surveillance capabilities that complement the counter-illicit trafficking efforts of U.S. and partner nation law enforcement agencies.

OTHER: SOUTHCOM also provides support to partner nations through training, information sharing, and technological and resource/infrastructure assistance. 


PACIFIC OCEAN (May 6, 2012) Alleged drug traffickers are arrested by Colombian naval forces during interdiction operations in the eastern Pacific coastal waters of Colombia.Using information gathered by Joint Interagency Task Force South-coordinated operations, U.S. law enforcement agencies and partner nations take the lead in interdicting drug runners.  U.S. military interdiction involvement, if any, is in support of those law enforcement agencies.  Typically, U.S. military personnel are involved in supporting an interdiction during maritime operations in international waters, where U.S. Navy ships and aircraft patrol and intercept suspected traffickers.  The actual interdictions – boarding, search, seizures and arrests – are led and conducted by embarked U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments or partner nation drug law enforcement agencies.

Supporting Partner Nations' Efforts

Active engagement with partner nations is a key component to effectively counter transnational criminal activities.  

SOUTHCOM’s ongoing strategic partnership with Colombia -- undertaken within the framework of the Colombian Strategic Development Initiative (CSDI) originally developed by the U.S. Embassy in Bogota -- serves as a model for integrated collaboration.  CSDI aligns the U.S. government support to Colombia with the Colombian government’s National Consolidation Plan, a whole-of-government effort to expand state presence and services in targeted areas where poverty, violence, illicit crop cultivation, and drug trafficking have historically converged.

In Central America and the Caribbean, SOUTHCOM supports the U.S. government’s two regional initiatives to improve citizen safety -- the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI).  U.S. Southern Command will continue to support interagency efforts to interdict illicit trafficking in international waters and airspace.

The U.S. military also assists partner nation CTOC efforts by:

  • Training partner nation forces who are leading the fight against transnational criminal organizations

  • Providing planning training, logistical support and intelligence support

  • Providing nonlethal equipment, including helicopter support, intelligence platforms, and command & control systems

  • Helping nations develop human rights policy and programs

  • Sponsoring multinational counter drug and counter-terrorism training exercises 

Also see: Secure Seas  |  Supporting Parter Nations, Building Partner Capacity 

Partnering with U.S. Northern Command

SOUTHCOM works directly with U.S. Northern Command to synchronize Department of Defense operations in the Western Hemisphere and coordinate the employment of combined resources.

The growing influence of Mexican transnational criminal organizations in Central America is a shared threat between SOUTHCOM and NORTHCOM, with regional violence and corruption increasing in both command’s areas of responsibility as transnational criminal organizations increase their areas of influence. 

SOUTHCOM works closely with NORTHCOM in monitoring the Tri-border area between Mexico’s Southern border, Belize, and Guatemala -- a key region of the narcotics transit zone.

More resources

Western Hemisphere Defense Policy Statement

 2014 Posture Statement to Congress



White House / Office of Nat’l Drug Control Policy links:

State Department links:




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