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Contact: Wimbish, Michael D CIV USSOUTHCOM/SC-CC (L)
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PANAMA CITY, Panama -- With their goal set on countering transnational organized crime and reducing high levels of violence in Central America, defense and security leaders from 13 Western Hemisphere nations met in Panama City April 17-18 to discuss the region’s security and evaluate the strategies and mechanisms supporting it.
 
Panama’s Vice Minister of Public Security Manuel Moreno and Marine Gen. John Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), co-hosted the Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC), joined by military and public security leaders from Belize, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua.
 
This year’s conference marks the second consecutive year participants chose to focus their annual meeting on transnational organized crime and their second CENTSEC following the launch of Operation Martillo, an unprecedented multinational effort that increased illicit trafficking disruptions along the Central American isthmus by 30 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, with 67 percent of disruptions supported by partner nations.
 
Central America is a transit zone for more than 80 percent of the cocaine traffic destined for the U.S., and the presence of cartel operatives and other organized criminal elements there is believed to have sharply risen in recent years and contributed to some of the highest homicide rates in the world.
 
Kelly thanked conference participants for their steadfast commitment to Operation Martillo and credited them for playing an important role in the operation’s results thus far.
 
“We’ve seen enormous improvements in regional interoperability,” said Kelly, “Their contributions have made this operation a success, and I’d like to see us build on this momentum.”
 
Rear Admiral Charles Michel, Director of Joint Interagency Task Force-South, updated attendees on the progress of Operation Martillo, which includes the disruption of more than 152 metric tons of cocaine, 21,488 kilograms of marijuana and $7.2 million in bulk cash during 2012.
 
CENTSEC participants shared information on the activities and sophisticated networks of drug trafficking organizations and reviewed key capabilities needed to strengthen their support of law enforcement operations during briefings, open discussions and private bilateral meetings.
 
Brig. Gen. Chris Nowland, Director of Strategy, Policy, and Plans at SOUTHCOM, briefed attendees on one capability that aims to boost multinational collaboration and increase the region’s ability to track, report and interdict the flow of narcotics and other illicit goods along existing and emerging trafficking routes.
 
Known to operators by its acronym, CSII, the Cooperative Situational Information Integration system shares sensor feeds containing sea, air and land traffic data with countries that agree to use the new, internet-based detection and monitoring platform.
 
It was introduced to Central American defense and security partners during a workshop hosted by El Salvador in February and is intended to improve and replace information-sharing technologies currently available within the much older Cooperative Nations Information Exchange System (CNIES).
 
As part of a projected transition from CNIES to CSII, SOUTHCOM and Joint Interagency Task Force South will host an operational demonstration later this year that will include user training, as well as an assessment of the utility, capabilities and functionality of this new system, developed as part of a Regional Domain Awareness (RDA) Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD).
 
With the U.S. and other partners experiencing fiscal constraints and transnational criminal organizations increasingly employing sophisticated technologies to elude detection, countries across the Western Hemisphere agreed to jointly develop and implement an information sharing mechanism, like CSII, to increase their awareness of illicit trafficking activities and trends within a networked area much larger than what can be patrolled by individual ships or aircraft.
 
CSII is one of several technologies developed and evaluated by SOUTHCOM with support from partner nations to combat what Kelly has called a “network of networks” used by drug traffickers and organized criminals to aid and conceal their illicit operations.
 
Information gleaned from CSII, human intelligence and other sources will help JIATF-South and regional partners better understand criminal networks, project potential illicit trafficking activities and conduct proximity patrols where the assessed potential for detection and disruption is greatest.
 
The information sharing collaboration supported by CSII will complement other U.S. security assistance aimed at helping regional countries strengthen their patrol, interdiction and enforcement capabilities.
 
SOUTHCOM-supported assistance to Central America ranges from infrastructure projects to build or renovate operational facilities for partner nation security forces, to equipment donations and provision of training to vetted units.
 
Thanks in part to this assistance, Central American countries seized 82 metric tons of cocaine in 2012, 64 percent of it by authorities in Panama and Honduras, whose territories and coastal waters are frequent first stops for drug shipments transiting the region, according to an annual report recently released by the U.S. State Department.
 
Kelly said SOUTHCOM’s commitment to continued cooperation with Central America and other regional partners remains strong, but warned that “our ability to support drug interdiction and law enforcement operations will be significantly affected,” as he described projected reductions to SOUTHCOM’s budget.
 
He commended Central American partners and other conference participants for their increasing contributions to countering transnational organized crime and asked for their resoluteness in addressing what he called a “prevalent problem in the region.”
 
The general also thanked CENTSEC attendees for their participation, calling the conference “an important forum which helps strengthen relationships and promote cooperation on shared security interests.”
 
This is Panama’s first time hosting CENTSEC, held previously in Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Byline: By U.S. Southern Command Public Affairs
Article Date: 4/19/2013
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