BELIZE CITY, Belize –
Belizean security forces and Joint Task Force-Bravo partnered during Operation CARACOL, a marijuana eradication mission, led by Belizean intelligence forces between Oct. 26-30, 2015, in various sectors of the Central American nation of Belize.
The purpose of the operation was to build upon the counter-drug partnership between the U.S. and Belize, and put Belizean security forces in the front seat in terms of establishing potential areas where marijuana farms might exist, determining their impact to the drug trade in the region and then eliminating fields they identified as targets.
"I was very impressed to see the different units come together at the tactical and operational level to conduct such a difficult mission," said U.S. Army Maj. Douglas Hoyt, JTF-B planning officer. "The Belize Defense Force, Mobile Interdiction Team, Anti-Narcotics Unit, Belize Coast Guard, Belize Police Department, and 1-228 Aviation Regiment all brought their expertise together to form a strong team that was commanded and controlled under the Belize Joint Intelligence and Operation Center at Price Barracks."
Once the U.S. Army CH-47 Chinooks and UH-60 Blackhawks rendezvoused with the Belizean eradication teams, the Belizean participants received ladder training to familiarize themselves on how to exit and enter the Chinooks safely. After the teams gained proficiency on the ladders, they moved into the eradication phase of the mission, applying the training they just received.
U.S. Army Maj. Richard Hull, 1-228 AVN operations and training officer, emphasized that relationships not only with the BDF, but also the Belize Air Wing, Coast Guard, Police Department and Embassy contributed to the success of the operation.
"If there's a future operation, such as humanitarian assistance or disaster relief, we already have relationships built and we're better prepared and able to help support not only Belize, but all of Central America," said Hull.
Throughout the course of the mission, the security forces destroyed over 50,000 marijuana plants, supported by U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopters assigned to the AVN. The Chinooks inserted Belizean forces into previously scouted marijuana fields and extracted them after the crops were destroyed.
"This combined force effectively planned and executed intelligence-driven operations that significantly reduced the number of illicit drugs illegally produced in remote jungle areas of Belize," said Hoyt. "It is an excellent example of how security cooperation should look."
Multi-national operations often present various challenges in which the success of missions depends on those in involved overcoming them prior to execution.
"There are always going to be challenges, there are always going to be issues. The number one thing we focus on is planning", said Hull. "It's important that we are all there working together as a team and that we have a common goal in mind."
A UH-60 remained on hand throughout the operation to provide medical evacuation as a safety precaution, while two CH-47s transported BDF members to fields for eradication.
Hull added that planning for this mission started months in advance with intelligence agencies on both ends pooling their information to set the eradication teams up for success.