The CSLs are not bases. They are tenant activities on existing airfields whose purpose is to support CTOC missions (see more on SOUTHCOM's role in Countering Transnational Criminal Organizations).
U.S. Southern Command oversees the operations from the CSLs. The Key West, Fla.-based Joint Interagency Task Force South coordinates U.S. aircraft usage and operations.
From these locations, U.S. detection and monitoring aircraft fly missions to detect, monitor and track aircraft or vessels engaged in illicit drug trafficking. The unarmed aircraft offer unique surveillance capabilities that support and compliment the counter-drug efforts of partner nation law enforcement agencies. (Note: Host nation officials are responsible for decisions to interdict suspected traffickers within their borders/airspace, and U.S. law enforcement agencies lead interdiction efforts in international waters.)
U.S. military, Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S Customs personnel operate from the CSLs to support the U.S. aircraft and to coordinate communications and information.
Establishment of the CSLs
With the closure of Howard Air Force Base in Panama in 1997, the establishment of CSLs within what officials call “source zones” (Andean Ridge) and “transit zones” (Caribbean, Eastern Pacific and Central America), was critical to the U.S. ability to implement the National Drug Control Strategy. The agreed upon locations allow U.S. and allied nation interdiction aircraft to be forward deployed closer to cocaine departure points in the source zone. The operations out of the CSLs now yield more counter-drug surveillance “coverage” -- at less cost -- than previous efforts out of Howard Air Force Base.
Agreements with the host nations specify which missions may be flown from the CSLs and also authorize Host Nation Riders to fly aboard U.S. aircraft to facilitate in-flight coordination with host nation authorities during operational missions. Some CSLs required extensive U.S.-funded modifications and upgrades to ensure that airfield/support facilities and force protection measures meet U.S. standards for safe operation by deployed aircraft and personnel (airfields must be night and all weather capable, have an air traffic control facility, and an 8,000-foot runway with the capability to support small, medium and heavy aircraft).
Each CSL at a glance
Caribbean CSL (Aruba-Curacao, The Netherlands Antilles)
The CSL is at two locations: Curaçao`s Hato International Airport and Aruba`s Reina Beatrix International Airport. The formal 10-year access agreement with the Kingdom of the Netherlands was signed in March 2000 and the Netherlands` parliament ratified the agreement in October 2001. Both CSL locations required minor construction improvements to include aircraft parking ramps, maintenance, and operations buildings. Counter-drug flights were made from these locations even as improvements were being made. To date, the Aruba CSL has seen limited improvement and use while the Curacao CSL has received all required improvements to include ramp space for two large, two medium, and six small aircraft, a fresh water rise facility, a maintenance hangar, and an operations building.
Aruba-Curacao provides effective, rapid response operations in the northern source zone, which includes the Guajira Peninsula of Colombia and the Venezuelan border region, as well as a large part of the transit zone. The U.S. Air Force handles day-to-day operations at the CSL.
Central American CSL (Comalapa, El Salvador)
The CSL at Comalapa is located at the Comalapa International Airport. In March 2000, the U.S. reached agreement with the government of El Salvador to operate out of Comalapa International Airport for 10 years.
This CSL significantly extends the reach of detection and monitoring aircraft into the Eastern Pacific drug smuggling corridors, through which more than half of the drugs heading for the U.S. transit -- often in multi-ton shipments.
The U.S. Navy handles day-to-day operations at the CSL, and provides the military aircraft and personnel.