by Bethany Blankley
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Air and Marine Operations crews operating P-3 aircraft from Texas and Florida participated in multi-agency counter narcotics operations that led to the seizure of 4.7 tons (9,475 pounds) of cocaine worth $179.2 million in a two-month timeframe, according to CBP.
Air and Marine Operations (AMO) agents operating along U.S. borders, coastlines and territorial waters are especially trained to combat maritime smuggling. They’re tasked with interdicting unlawful people and cargo approaching U.S. borders and investigating criminal networks, providing domain awareness in air and maritime environments and responding to a range of contingencies.
AMO has two P-3 National Air Security Operations Centers located in Corpus Christi, Texas, and Jacksonville, Florida. The aircraft operate throughout North, Central and South America to prevent attempts by cartels to smuggle people and contraband.
AMO National Air Security Operations Center, P-3 Long Range Tracker crews and U.S. Southern Command partners were involved in maritime drug busts between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30, 2021.
One-third of overall drug seizures during this period occurred on one single night, according to CBP. On Oct. 24, a P-3 Long Range Tracker crew detected a suspicious vessel in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and guided U.S. Coast Guard teams to its location. The AMO aircrew received reports of a second vessel and guided Colombian Navy and National Aero-naval Service of Panama teams for interdiction. Their efforts led to the detention of six people and seizure of 2.8 tons of cocaine.
“National Air Security Operations Center P-3 capabilities continue to prove essential in support of United States Southern Command operations, contributing to an increased law enforcement presence in narcotics transit zones,” CBP reports. “This partnership bolsters support to U.S. and international law enforcement by sharing information and intelligence to help expand target packages.”
Earlier this month, AMO agents, working with Homeland Security and DEA agents, intercepted a vessel with four people transporting 1,470 pounds (667 kilos) of cocaine with an estimated value of nearly $20 million off the coast of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
AMO crew patrolling the east side of the U.S. Virgin Islands detected a twin-engine boat at high speed with suspected contraband noticeable on the boat’s deck. Working with the U.S. Coast Guard, the crew stopped the vessel 20 nautical miles east of St. Croix and the four men on board were arrested for narcotics violations.
“Transnational criminal organizations take aim at diverse routes to move their illicit contraband,” Augusto Reyes, director of the Caribbean Air and Marine Branch, said. “Our agents will continue to use our advanced aeronautical and maritime capabilities to detect and interdict them throughout our coastal borders.”
There are over 1,800 AMO agents and mission support personnel responsible for maintaining and operating 240 aircraft and 300 marine vessels throughout the U.S., and in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In fiscal 2021, AMO enforcement actions resulted in 1,119 arrests and 122,035 apprehensions of illegal immigrants. These specialized agents seized or disrupted 324,772 pounds of cocaine, 779,725 pounds of marijuana, 18,548 pounds of methamphetamine, 900 weapons and $73.3 million in cash.
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Bethany Blankley is a contributor to The Center Square.