US helps in Latin America anti-drug drive
Miami - The US military announced on Thursday it is joining a large international operation against drug smuggling and organised crime off the coast of Central America.
Military units from Europe and Latin America are also participating.
An interagency group of the US military's Southern Command is working with the multinational force's efforts to detect and stop smuggling of illegal drugs, weapons and large amounts of laundered money.
"More than 80% of the cocaine destined for US markets is transported via sea lanes, primarily using littoral routes through Central America," said Southern Command chief General Douglas Fraser. "We intend to disrupt their operations by limiting their ability to use Central America as a transit zone."
The US force is composed of 10 ships from the Navy and Coast Guard.
The Navy is in charge of detection and providing information about criminal activity. The Coast Guard is in charge of stopping the smugglers.
Southern Command officials said 13 countries are participating: Britain, Canada, Belize, Colombia, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Spain and the United States.
"We know that criminal organisations are very active in coastal waters of Central America," said Jose Ruiz, spokesperson for the Southern Command in Miami.
They regularly move between international waters and specific countries, "so it is especially important that all countries in the region co-operate in the control", Ruiz said.
No completion date has been set for the action, called Operation Hammer, which began the last week of January. "It will be determined as we advance toward the goals," Ruiz said.
In 2011, the Southern Command assisted other agencies in seizing 119 metric tons of cocaine, worth an estimated $2.35bn, in Central America.
Also seized were $21m in cash and $16m in black market items that were destined for money laundering by criminal groups, according to the Southern Command.