The New York Times reports on military bases the US's Southern Command (SouthCom) has established in remote parts of Honduras to support anti-drug operations, in an example of the US military's increased commitment to the region.
The three remote forward operating bases (see map) serve as launchpads for joint operations by the US military, the DEA and Honduran anti-drug authorities, the NYT reports. The bases are located in rural areas close to drug handover points, and each house 55 people at a time in two-week rotations.
The bases have cut the time between radar detection and interdiction of a suspicious airplane from three hours to 30-45 minutes in most cases, according to the report.
US troops in Honduras operate under strict rules of engagement. They cannot fire their weapons except in self defense, even if Honduran or DEA officials are under attack, and their bases are guarded by Honduran military personnel, as the NYT reports.
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The US military has signalled its willingness to take on a greater role in Central America, which has been hit by drug violence over the last decade as it has become an increasingly important transit zone for the drug trade. In March, SouthCom commander General Douglas Fraser told Congress that "the violence continues to increase in Central America, and that's where and why we are focusing there."
Honduras has been one of the countries that has seen the biggest increase in military aid and cooperation, including a new US-funded naval base in the Bay Islands off its northern coast. Joint Task Force Bravo, SouthCom's Central America component, keeps 600 troops at its headquarters at Soto Cano Air Force Base outside of Tegucigalpa.
There are also US-funded military bases in El Salvador, Belize, Nicaragua, Panama, Guatemala, and Costa Rica, as well as one planned for the Dominican Republic.
For its part, the DEA's presence on the missions conducted out of the forward bases includes members of its elite Foreign-Deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST), set up to fight drug trafficking in Afghanistan and later expanded to other countries as the US's involvement in that conflict winds down.
While the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan diverted military assets away from Latin America, this trend may be reversed, as more personnel and equipment become available for anti-drug operations in the region.