US Air Force to support counter narcotics operations in Caribbean


US Air Force

MIAMI — The United States Southern Command here, otherwise known as SOUTHCOM, says the US Air Force will temporarily deploy four aircraft and crews to Curaçao to support enhanced counter-narcotics operations with international partners targeting illicit traffickers in the Caribbean.

On Friday, SOUTHCOM said that two patrol aircraft, an E-3 Sentry (AWACS) and E-8 Joint STARS (JSTARS), supported by two KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft, will fly detection and monitoring missions in international airspace “to help US and international law enforcement authorities disrupt and defeat transnational criminal organisations trafficking illegal narcotics in the region.”

About 200 airmen, including aircrew, maintenance technicians, logisticians and administrative personnel, will support the operation, SOUTHCOM said in a statement.

It said the aircraft will operate from the Curaçao-hosted Cooperative Security Location (CSL), also commonly referred to as a forward operating location, in Willemstad.

SOUTHCOM said the US Air Force aircraft has previously conducted similar missions from the CSL under a counter narcotics partnership agreement with the governments of Curaçao and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, dating back two decades.

“Curaçao is a committed regional partner whose longstanding support for multinational counter-drug operations plays a vital role in stemming the flow of deadly narcotics trafficked globally by violent criminal organisations,” SOUTHCOM said.

“This is a national security issue,” it added. “President Donald Trump announced the enhanced counter-narcotics operations April 1. Since then, the US has collaborated with international partners in more than a dozen Caribbean interdiction events.”

To date, SOUTHCOM said US enhanced counter narcotics operations have resulted in the seizure of more than 49 metric tons of cocaine and almost 13,000 pounds of marijuana, an estimated loss of US$1.2 billion to transnational criminal organisations.

Law enforcement authorities have also detained more than 160 drug smugglers during the operations, SOUTHCOM said.

“The airmen followed strict COVID-19 prevention and mitigation guidelines while preparing for the deployment and will continue to do so while deployed to the island,” it said. “To enter Curacao, all personnel will be held to strict medical standards including appropriate screening, masks, and restricted movement on the island for the first 14 days.