Over the past decade of combat in Afghanistan and now Libya, U.S. and NATO forces have learned just how important it is to be able to share intelligence in a combat zone. And while problems will always pop up, the ability to share information across allied communications lines has—even with all of the national caveats and problems we’ve seen in coordination—been a critical enabler in everything from coordinating airstrikes to the IED fight.
Seeing a coalition work together, warts and all, has spurred the embattled president of Guatemala to call for a ‘NATO-style’ organization in Latin America to battle the scourge of wealthy, powerful, and very violent drug cartels that are ravaging the region. The armed forces of Central America’s most populous nation have for years been outgunned by the Mexican cartels, particularly the Zetas, an especially brutal group allegedly manned by former members of the Mexican military which has taken over an entire area of the north of the country on the Mexican border. In recent violence, the Zetas are suspected of beheading 25 people in a single incident in the region.
In an interview with the Financial Times, the country’s outgoing president Álvaro Colom complained that while cartels can cross national borders with impunity, “what good is it if the forces of one country are pursuing drug traffickers who cross a river but then have to stop to avoid an international incident?” he asked. “Why not have a type of Central American Nato?”
Communications are an issue, he says, especially when authorities from different countries have to try and quickly coordinate actions and obtain permission to operate along or over borders. “There are procedures that interrupt operations,” he said, “sometimes it is just a question of minutes but that can make all the difference.
Late last year, David Johnson, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement called Guatemala “one of the hemisphere’s most persistent security challenges” passing on the grim statistics that “Guatemala’s murder rate has roughly doubled in the last ten years and is now eight times that of the United States, and four times that of Mexico. Drug violence is spilling over the border, as the Mexican government’s tough stand on narco-traffickers pushes notorious organizations like the Zetas southwards.”
Colom, like other politicians and security officials in the region, called on the United States, as a “consumer nation” of the cocaine that finances these gangs, for more security assistance in the form of training and equipment. While the U.S. military is already involved in some advisory and humanitarian assistance programs both in Guatemala and elsewhere in the region, regional allies—including the United States—will have to coordinate efforts and take a more active role in really attacking the source, as well as the markets, if this cartel-enabled slide into chaos is to be arrested.