• Since April 2020, US Navy and Coast Guard ships and plane have been conducting enhanced counternarcotics operations.
  • They work collectively carefully, and Coast Guard snipers on Navy vessels are partaking suspected smugglers daily, the highest US commander in the area says.
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Nearly a 12 months after deploying extra ships and plane to the waters round South and Central America, the Navy and Coast Guard proceed to make multi-ton drug busts, and their personnel are partaking suspected smugglers every day, the highest US navy commander in the area mentioned in January.

US Southern Command, which oversees US navy operations in the area, started enhanced counternarcotics operations on April 1, appearing on a directive from then-President Donald Trump to additional disrupt the circulate of medication to the US.

Since then, Navy destroyers, littoral fight ships, and helicopters, Coast Guard cutters and helicopters, and Navy and Air Force patrol and reconnaissance planes have elevated their presence in the area.

At the Surface Navy Association symposium in mid-January, Adm. Craig Faller, head of Southern Command, mentioned the sailors concerned “are making a difference.”

A Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron crew demonstrates warning pictures fired at a non-compliant boat, September 24, 2009.

US Coast Guard/Petty Officer third Class Michael Hulme


Faller mentioned he had met with destroyer crews who took half in counternarcotics patrols, normally 60 to 70 days lengthy, integrating with Coast Guard crews all through.

“We do detection and monitoring. That’s our mission, so we use the intelligence to find the threat, track the threat, and then Coast Guard law enforcement … do the actual interdiction and detention,” Faller mentioned, calling it “a very good mashup” between the 2 companies.

“Coast Guard HITRON teams, which are sniper teams, have integrated into US Navy helicopters. So our Navy crews are involved in decisions to use … warning shots and disabling fire daily. I mean, it is a daily event,” Faller added. “We average numbers, sometimes large numbers, of events daily, and they’ve done it safely, effectively, completely in compliance with all the law of war and with precision. [I’m] very proud of that.”

The Coast Guard is a navy department, however not like the opposite service branches, it has law-enforcement authority, and Coast Guard crews have lengthy been on the frontline in opposition to high-seas drug trafficking.

Invoking that authority in worldwide waters has been some extent of controversy, however a Coast Guard spokesman mentioned personnel concerned in interdictions adhere to the regulation.

US Coast Guard helicopter marksman machine gun

Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony Phillips, a precision marksman with the HITRON, shows the weaponry used on HITRON missions, February 23, 2010.

US Coast Guard/Petty Officer 1st Class Bobby Nash


“These teams conduct law-enforcement activities strictly under Coast Guard statutory authority and control. The Coast Guard follows a process, consistent with international and domestic law, when making the decision to use force to interdict suspected traffickers on the high-seas,” Cmdr. Ace Castle, public affairs officer for US Coast Guard Atlantic Area, instructed Insider.

While aboard Navy helicopters, solely Coast Guard personnel “trained and qualified on the weapons systems, mission, and use of force tactics,” make use of warning or disabling pictures, and people pictures aren’t directed at folks on the vessels being focused, Castle mentioned.

“Coast Guard precision marksmen only engage in warning shots and/or disabling fire when a vessel fails to heave to when ordered to do so,” Castle added. “The precision marksman consults with his or her chain of command before force is used, in compliance with training and well-developed international and domestic law.”

Precision marksmen

Navy LCS Gabrielle Giffords drugs narco sub

USS Gabrielle Giffords and embarked US Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment 407 conduct enhanced counternarcotics operations in the Pacific, December 5, 2020.

US Navy


The Coast Guard’s Law Enforcement Detachments, or LEDETs, and its Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron are concerned in counternarcotics operations in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

LEDETs embrace boarding groups and marksmen who “provide expert law-enforcement capabilities that deploy to US and foreign Navy ships under US statutory authority,” Castle mentioned.

HITRON, which is a separate unit, “provide[s] the same tactical capability that a Navy helicopter does when that Navy helicopter has an embarked LEDET precision marksman,” Castle added. Coast Guard marksmen are extremely expert and prepare rigorously to fireside precisely at small targets, comparable to engines, on shifting ships.

The most up-to-date LEDET to return from deployment spent 127 days with USS Gabrielle Giffords, a littoral fight ship, in the Pacific Ocean. It carried out seven interdictions, seizing 4,144 kilos of marijuana and 5.9 metric tons of cocaine, together with 2.8 metric tons aboard a “narco sub” in December.

Coast Guard cutter Stone drug smuggling Caribbean

Two small-boat groups from US Coast Guard cutter Stone intercept a vessel they believe of criminality in the Caribbean, January 6, 2021.

US Coast Guard/PO3 John Hightower


During 2020, the Coast Guard’s HITRON carried out 29 aviation detachment deployments. The 56 instances it prosecuted throughout that interval yielded seizures of 39.1 metric tons of cocaine and 10 metric tons of marijuana, Castle mentioned.

Between March 26, 2020, and January 29, forces working below Southern Command intercepted 279 metric tons of cocaine and 96,000 kilos of marijuana, denying felony teams an estimated $6 billion, Castle added.

Those seizures are the results of all-hands effort, Faller mentioned in January.

“We have had amphibious ships that have deployed here without any helicopter embarks that have used their resources … to take initiative and make some significant takedowns,” Faller mentioned.

“We had a national security cutter that’s not even commissioned yet … and it’s taken down several illicit traffickers,” Faller added, referring to US Coast Guard cutter Stone, which sailed on its preliminary shakedown cruise in late December and three weeks later stopped a vessel carrying over 2,000 kilos of cocaine in the Caribbean.