HOMESTEAD AIR RESERVE BASE, Fla. -- Special Operations Command South and Special Operations Command North co-hosted the second Western Hemisphere Operations Conference here February 6-10, 2017 bringing together experts intent on building a stronger interagency effort against Transregional and Transnational Threat Networks, or T3N.
More than 120 experts from 24 U.S. interagency and international partners attended the conference to better understand the danger threat networks pose. Participating U.S. agencies included law enforcement and intelligence organizations within the Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State departments.
During the conference, participants heard from at least nine different North, Central, and South American, and Caribbean country specialists about the threat network's rising use of smuggling routes in their countries.
While the conference's purpose was to maximize intelligence sharing opportunities, Special Operations Forces leaders challenged the group to propose a regionally focused framework for future collaboration to counter T3N use of illicit pathways.
"What I want us to get out of this conference is for each of us to truly understand where each agency sits in the fight against the threats," said Navy Rear Adm. Collin P. Green, SOCSOUTH commander. "At SOCSOUTH we pride ourselves in being a mutually supportive and interoperable partner because we understand the threats in the region and we know that what happens in the region affects our borders."
While the interagency together with partner nation allies have been successful in reducing the flow of illegal drugs, goods, people, and weapons, threat networks still pose a significant security challenge to the hemisphere.
One of the ways the interagency is attacking this security challenge is by focusing U.S. and international efforts against the use of illicit pathways prevalent in the region, which not only pose a threat to partner nation sovereignty, but also the U.S.
"Threat networks pose a challenge to our security and stability, and that of our partners, allies and friends," said U.S. Southern Command Commander Navy Adm. Kurt W. Tidd, during a Keynote speech Feb. 8 in Miami. "What keeps me up at night is thinking about all the illicit pathways these networks use and the corruption and violence left in their wake."
"These are highly efficient systems that can move just about anything and anyone into our countries," said USSOUTHCOM's commander. "And that's very concerning, in this day and age."
"Last year, more than 415,816 migrants, mostly from Central America and Mexico were apprehended on our southern border," said DHS Secretary John F. Kelly, testifying before a House of Representatives committee in February.
"The ease with which human smugglers have moved tens of thousands of people to our nation's doorstep also serves as another warning sign: these smuggling routes are a potential vulnerability of our homeland," said Kelly. While the majority of those captured flee violence or seek economic opportunity, a small number could potentially seek to harm the U.S. or commit crimes, he added.
That is why WHEM conference participants proposed plans for maximizing future cooperation against illicit routes used by threat networks.
"First, we layout each of our agency's roles so that we aren't duplicating our efforts," said Edward V. Dolan Jr., Central America regional attaché with the Department of Homeland Security. "The next step and biggest hurdle is then syncing planning cycles between DoD and DHS components to better prepare to support each other and leverage assets to combat this threat."
Although mutual collaboration to countering these threats isn't new, the interagency is determined to continue to make strides in integration among stakeholders and increase support against threat networks.
"There is a concerted effort more than ever to collaborate to identify, disrupt, and dismantle these networks," said Dolan. "Unlike other initiatives, this is a ground-up effort between [the interagency] to illuminate gaps." Gaps along pathways that originates in South America and makes its way up to Central America, he said.
Similar to the first conference held in Colorado, SOCNORTH brought their expertise needed to link North America to Central America and identify the entirety of the pathways that lead into the U.S., added Dolan.
Although USSOUTHCOM's area of responsibility is often overlooked in comparison to other geographic combatant commands, the interagency needs to continue to build a stronger network against threats to protect the homeland, because "Security is the underpin of stability," said SOCSOUTH's commander, explaining how security supports democratic institutions.
"We need to find new ways to work together…to build our own networks that are stronger than the ones that threaten the prosperity and security of our hemisphere," said Tidd.