One of the more neglected subjects in contemporary media coverage is the mission and role of the U.S. Southern Command / SOCOM. During the past decade the Central Command, with responsibly for SW Asia including Iraq and Afghanistan received the bulk of attention, more recently, with terrorism from Somalia and Yemen to Mali, the African Command / AFRICOM has received its own share. Generally speaking the Southern Command has been left simply deal with to its own mission – perhaps without too much thought from Congress about how challenging that mission is – and its built in risks.
Southern Command’s major missions are involve both drug interdiction and counter-terrorism work. The drug mission focuses on the huge increase in drug traffic to the American south and east coasts – some indicators of the traffic are up over 400% from 2012 to 2013. Counter Terrorism focuses on the groups and individuals who try to take advantage of the drug routes. The two go hand in hand because as we discuss in Shadow warfare, drug smuggling routes and the drug smuggling networks always represents just exactly the illegal channel that is of prime interest to any unsanctioned activity from insurgencies to terrorism. Follow the drugs and you often follow the guns, follow the drugs and you follow the weapons. Worse yet, even from the earliest years in the Golden Triangle, the bad guys are often better armed than the natives and either take over skimming the business or sometimes running it.
Given its mission, SOCOM must heavily participate with DEA and other American agencies and projects targeting both drugs and terrorism.
That also means, like it or not, that its going to end up dealing with two types of local nations, first are the friendly to the US and deeply involved in their own drug suppression as well as anti-insurgency efforts – since insurgents of any stripe are often forced or choose to get into the drug business given that they are hard pressed for money from any source. Those nations draw serious military assistance and cooperative efforts – and you find American personnel being lost in action, often deep in the jungles or mountainous regions and particular in electronic and signals intelligence work.
Then there are those nations hostile to the US, most definitely not cooperating in anti-drug activities and essentially representing denied access regions. As things work in the world, for many reasons they become natural transit routes for drug shipments. Most recently Venezuela has come to represent a significant transit point to “break bulk” and forward drugs into the Caribbean. One of the most active routes at present is from Columbia, though Venezuela and on to Puerto Rico. From there it goes to Miami, Houston and up the East Coast…as it always has. Its just a matter of how it gets out of Columbia and the major production centers.
All of this means that SOCOM is going to be involved with that traffic in many ways, from electronic and signals work, to radar, and as usual, searching for informants on both sides of the border. And of course its also going to be tracking those Russian long range aircraft now flying into Venezuela and Nicaragua (and if you think they are not crammed full of their own ELINT gear you underestimate the Russians).
The point I’m dancing around is that given its mission, SOCOM has to deal one way or the other with both friendly and unfriendly nations – which means that America is still very active in Central and South America, you just may not be reading about it. If you are interested and would like some further background, you should check out this link to the most recent Congressional briefing by the SOCOM commander: