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Commentary | Feb. 7, 2018

Joint Task Force-Bravo: A Trusted Partner in Central American Security

By U.S. Army Col. Keith A. McKinley, JTF-Bravo commander Joint Task Force-Bravo

The year 2018 marks the 35th anniversary of the formation of Joint Task Force-Bravo (JTF-Bravo). Located at Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras, JTF-Bravo is a joint military organization formed under the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) to promote regional cooperation and security within Central America. JTF-Bravo mission sets are wide and consist of operating a forward, strategic air base, organizing multilateral exercises, supporting counter transnational organized crime operations, and executing humanitarian assistance/disaster relief efforts in the region.

As a trusted partner, JTF-Bravo is a critical SOUTHCOM organization that contributes directly to the security and stability of Central America. Rapid response, support to law enforcement, and multilateral exercises are three areas that demonstrate the organization’s importance within the region.

Rapid Response

JTF-Bravo’s unique task organization enables rapid response capabilities in support of contingencies. The task force consists of several subordinate units, including an air base squadron that runs an all-weather day/night strategic airfield, a helicopter battalion which provides medium and heavy rotary-wing support, a medical element with robust surgical capabilities, an Army battalion which provides command and control as well as logistical support, and a joint security force that conducts force protection operations.

These units have well-suited capabilities that are specifically organized to support contingency operations on short notice in the Central American region. In 2017, JTF-Bravo has conducted disaster relief operations in the Caribbean, battled forest fires in Honduras, executed search-and-rescue missions in Belize, and conducted numerous medical missions throughout the region.

Support to Law Enforcement

The threats within the Central American region are not isolated to specific countries but affect all governments within the Western Hemisphere. Over the last two decades, we have witnessed our world become more interconnected and networked; this applies to threat organizations which present a common danger to regional stability. Terrorist organizations, drug cartels, human trafficking groups, and weapons smugglers have developed robust networks that maintain a regional focus unconstrained by borders. These threat networks are highly organized and well-resourced, preying off the population to destabilize the region and challenge government sovereignty.

While JTF-Bravo does not conduct law enforcement operations, it is organized to support U.S. and partner nation law enforcement. For example, JTF-Bravo has extensive logistical capabilities and infrastructure that can assist law enforcement organizations to extend their reach into remote areas when conducting operations. Additionally, JTF-Bravo has aviation and ground vehicles that can enhance the maneuverability of law enforcement agencies. Finally, JTF-Bravo maintains a robust communication and intelligence capability that can provide vital information to better detect and illuminate threat networks operating within the region.

Multilateral Exercises

Multilateral exercises between U.S. and partner nation militaries increase interoperability and readiness in times of emergencies. They are a vital part of SOUTHCOM’s security cooperation program, build common understanding between militaries, and enhance their capabilities. When conducting joint or service component exercises with partner nations, SOUTHCOM focuses on four imperatives: human rights, gender integration, non-commission officer professionalization, and joint operations, and incorporates them into their exercise design.

As the only forward-deployed SOUTHCOM organization in Central America, JTF-Bravo is an essential entity in support of multilateral exercises. JTF-Bravo’s unique organizational construct is well-suited to support exercises that take place in Central America. Additionally, JTF-Bravo maintains fluid communications and strong relationships with U.S. and partner nation militaries and their staffs, which are leveraged to enhance exercise objectives and coordination. These activities make SOUTHCOM exercises more effective and efficient in maintaining regional stability and security.

JTF-Bravo also supports other SOUTHCOM military organizations. The U.S. National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program (SPP) has been active in Central America for almost three decades. Every nation in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean has a U.S. National Guard state partner with whom it conducts regular exercises and subject matter expert exchanges. JTF-Bravo also supports U.S. and partner nation exercises, such as Exercise Tropical Dagger, which occurred in Belize in November 2017, with militaries from Canada, Great Britain, and Jamaica.

Multilateral exercises are critical in enhancing the interoperability and readiness of U.S. and those of Central American military formations. As a trusted regional partner, JTF-Bravo plays a crucial role in enhancing the effectiveness of these important theater security cooperation events. By working together in an atmosphere of trust and collaboration, nations can best address the common threats that affect us all.