Counter Transnational Criminal Organizations

Transnational Criminal Organizations pose complex transnational threats to the stability of Latin America and the Caribbean and to U.S. public health and national security.  These well-resourced groups traffic drugs, weapons, counterfeit items, money and people. This insidious web of crime threatens citizen security, undermines basic human rights, cripples the rule of law through corruption, erodes good governance, and hinders economic development. The U.S. military works with federal agencies and partners in the region to counter these threats.

A Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf boarding team conducts an interdiction of a self-propelled semi-submersible vessel suspected of smuggling 7.5 tons of cocaine in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, Aug. 31, 2015.


A Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf boarding team aboard an Over the Horizon Long-Range Interceptor boat conducts an interdiction of a self-propelled semi-submersible vessel suspected of smuggling 7.5 tons of cocaine in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, Aug. 31, 2015. The seized contraband is worth an estimated $227 million. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)


Department of Defense Role Explained

We are committed to working with our partners to counter transnational criminal organizations that threaten safety and the stability in the region. Our approach supports the 2011 White House Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime and complements the U.S. Strategy for Central America, the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), and Merida Initiative. This approach recognizes the leading role of other federal agencies in the effort to counter illicit trafficking, and leverages our capabilities -- Title X detection and monitoring, support to law enforcement interdiction operations, and our ability to conduct network analysis -- to defend the southern approaches to the United States.

We focus security cooperation activities where they are most effective. 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 also provides 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

SOUTHCOM collaborates with other agencies and nations to support counter illicit trafficking efforts through detection and monitoring, information sharing, and partner nation capacity building.

Detection and monitoring

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. 


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.  Any U.S. military interdiction involvement 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

SOUTHCOM enables partner nations to manage internal security threats and crises and contribute to regional and international security efforts. We focus on training and equipping, infrastructure, and building capability and capacity programs for countering transnational threat networks. We aim to strengthen our relationships with the region’s security forces. We continue to strengthen and build network linkages to regional militaries, civilian agencies, and experts with whom we will cooperate in the event of a crisis. And we will work to improve preparedness and response capabilities across the Area of Responsibility.

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

  • Training partner nation forces who are leading the fight against threat networks

  • 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 counterdrug and counter-terrorism training exercises 

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 threat networks 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 threat networks 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