SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
The U.S. Embassy Military Liaison Office in Belmopan and Joint Task Force-Bravo partnered with Belizean military forces in a successful marijuana eradication operation in Belize from September 25 to 28, 2013.
The operation resulted in the Belizean forces destroying 22 marijuana fields and approximately 37,970 mature marijuana plants with an initial estimated value of USD $13 million. In addition, the team also found and destroyed four pounds of marijuana seeds.
Joint Task Force-Bravo provided aviation support, on-call casualty evacuation and tactical assault on objective insertion and extraction training for 38 Belizean military and law enforcement personnel who participated in the operation. This training involved the use of a caving ladder, which is lowered from the helicopter in order to insert ground forces into an otherwise inaccessible area.
"The caving ladder training is important for this type of mission," said U.S. Army Capt. Lance Garnett, a platoon leader and CH-47 Chinook pilot assigned to Bravo Company, 1-228th Aviation Regiment, Joint Task Force-Bravo. "Sometimes there are confined areas where the ground suitability isn't good for the helicopter, so we use the ladder to insert the ground forces. It expands the possible landing zones that can be used."
For the operation, Joint Task Force-Bravo worked with a joint- force composed of personnel from the Belize Defense Force Special Assignment Group, the Belize Coast Guard SEALs and the Belize National Police Anti-Drug Unit.
"The Belizeans wanted to take this opportunity to get several of their organizations together to have experience working with this aircraft," said U.S. Army Capt. Fernando Martinez, Alpha Company commander, 1-228th Aviation Regiment. "The Belizean SEALS, Belize Defence Forces, and Belize Police Department personnel all served as the ground force for this operation. The U.S. military provided them with the transportation and reconnaissance they needed to conduct the ground mission."
The combined capabilities of the two countries proved key to the success of the eradication operation.
"It was a great mission," said Martinez. "The forces from Belize were extremely professional and very impressive. Some of the areas we went into were very difficult to access. We would put them in as close as we could, but many times they had to work through some very thick jungle to get to their objective. Watching them operate was very impressive, and it was a great experience to work with them."
The joint and combined operation sets the stage for future joint drug interdiction operations between the partner nations.
"This validates one of the reasons we are operating in Central America," said Martinez. "It reinforces the partnerships we have with the Central American countries, and it's through those partnerships that we are able to continue to work with them. And the more often we work with them, the stronger those ties become."