by Master Sgt. Louis A. Arana-Barradas
Air Force News Service
FORT AMADOR, Panama -- Drug traffickers got the word Aug. 3 that a more united Latin American effort will soon make the illegal trade they deal in much riskier.
The message was sent by the four nations at the end of a three-day command post exercise, Fuerzas Unidas-Counterdrug '95, held at Albrook Air Station, Panama. Preliminary training had started July 26.
The first such exercise of its kind, its aim was to foster closer cooperation between the nations' air forces during simulated counterdrug operations, said U.S. Southern Command officials, sponsors of the exercise. Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador sent participants; Panama sent two "working" observers.
Each nation announced their part in the event had been successful and that they would integrate the lessons learned into their country's counterdrug efforts. The delegates also agreed that while cooperation, coordination and camaraderie between their nations was enhanced, some improvements were needed.
"To combat narcotrafficking up front, it's necessary to make uniform the criteria for fighting this menace," said Lt. Col. Wilson Salgado of Ecuador's air force. "We must maximize the use of resources in every country and utilize them jointly to fight drug trafficking."
Columbian Col. Gonzalo Morales Forero said though all the participants spoke Spanish, they didn't always communicate. "It seems we all have a different dictionary. We need a common communications language and phraseology.
"And countries should be required to share their information and intelligence about narcotrafficking," Morales said.
Columbia was, perhaps, the biggest beneficiary of this exercise, said Brig. Gen. Miguel Dario Onofre, head of his country's delegation. "Unfortunately, our country produces, processes and sells drugs. But the illicit activities within our borders have caused us -- and others -- many problems."
Argentina was participating in its first joint Southern Command exercise. "Our previous experience in fighting narcotrafficking wasn't very ample," said Commodore Jorge Pierini of the Argentine air force. "As far as cooperation, the hand-off procedures of suspect aircraft from one nation to another were excellent."
The exercise came on the heels of the Defense Ministerial of the Americas conference held in Williamsberg, Va., where the 34 attending nations agreed July 26 to six Williamsberg Principles for shared common defense and security. They included transparency and confidence-building, defense cooperation and the role of armed forces in 21st century democracies, as well as promoting greater defense cooperation in the fight against narcoterrorism.
"This exercise was a rousing success," said Brig. Gen. Richard E. Brown III, exercise director and 24th Wing commander at Howard Air Force Base, Panama. "Certainly we had our problems initially, but we got past them pretty quick. The players didn't get wrapped up in the simulation wargame and went right into real-world discussions quicker than I've seen before.
"Every time we do anything together like this, one of our primary objectives is building relationships, learning to understand each other and cooperate and communicate better. We accomplished that objective," Brown said.
Onofre said participants openly shared experiences, information and developed lasting working and personal friendships.
"The success of this exercise reaffirms the fact that -- by working together -- the scourge of narcotrafficking will be defeated," Onofre said. "And the friendships we established will, in the future, help us win the fight against narcotraffickers."