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Operation Tropical Dagger; multinational military force to take on Cartel Planes

Tropical Dagger sounds like a name of a Hollywood film, but it’s actually the name of a joint military exercise that includes elements from North and Central America along with the Caribbean. It’s a regional effort to combat narco-trafficking and other national security issues of the participating countries. It’s an exercise that’s particularly native to Belize, as in September,  1,225 pounds of cocaine was found in Blue Creek in a Cessna 210 single-engine plane; in October a King Air 200 was found torched in Progresso and prior to that, 8 suspected drug planes have been found abandoned or burnt in the north between November 2017 to August 2018. Love News traveled west to BDF Camp Belizario to watch how a multinational team would take down the next plane that landed on a clandestine airstrip.

Jose Sanchez: “Tropical Dagger is a Multinational Military Operation conducted in Unison with Canada, Jamaica and Trinidad. The Military team converged on BDF Camp Belizario today to plan and execute operation against a fictional drug Cartel. BDF General Steven Ortega says the Belize element includes the Belize Coast Guard and sections from the Police Department including the GSU.

BDF General Steven Ortega: “Because we don’t normally work together, our units especially in Belize don’t normally work together so as they mentioned it’s like saying that everybody has to work  together as one and to ensure that it is all coordinated and it works well as you notice out there. I mean out there were elements form various countries and you wouldn’t know the difference, you would think they were one unit so that’s what the training leads up to.

Reporter: The scenario is a Drug Operation that has been operating in Belize and they were conducting surveillance on airstrip and the Surveillance Team reported that they were seeing activity and ended up with the plane being captured and the drug runners being arrested, some dead.

Jose Sanchez: “ And something did happen, after the ground crew arrived on the airship with fuel, the fake news Drug Cartel plane landed and then operation Tropical Thunder was in full effect and within minutes it was over.

Brig General Steven Bowen Deputy Commander Canadian Special Operations Command Force: ‘So we started this initiative in 2012 and now it has evolved over the years so the idea is to deliver for those countries what it is that they need, what it is that they want and not what we think is required in the area so it has definitely evolved since 2012 from delivering to a single nation to now a regional approach in security.

Brig Commander Antonette Wemyss Gorman maritime Air Cyber Commander, Jamaica Defense Force: “This exercise started with the Jamaica’s Defence Force and Canada in Jamaica in 2012 and we are happy to see that it is growing to include Belize and Trinidad and so I came over to just observe.

Jose Sanchez: What is your assessment of this exercise since you first started in Jamaica?

Brig Commander Antonette Wemyss Gorman maritime Air Cyber Commander, Jamaica Defense Force:“ It has certainly met the needs of our Special Forces and it’s growing to really encompass regional needs so certainly it has met and surpassed its expectations. This is a good combination of training and as would have been mentioned things like these take a lot of planning especially in the real world it takes a lot planning to really culminate in few minutes and I think it was well executed. The training was well executed in the final exercise here today.

Jose Sanchez: As Cartels find new ways to out maneuver Security Forces the learning curve is steep and continuous.

Brig General Steven Bowen Deputy Commander Canadian Special Operations Command Force: We are learning just as much as our partners are learning in this case so when it comes down to tops we are  taking as many tips from those partners as they are taking from us.

Jose Sanchez: “ Would you say it’s best then to practice what we saw out here today to actually catch them at the plane rather than miles down the road.

BDF General Steven Ortega: “If possible, it all depends on what the scenario is playing at the time so scenarios change, things change so it would be best to catch them red handed. The first phase is they receive the initial intelligence that something might be happening in the air stop and they start conducting their planning and having their orders processed and then they do their rehearsals and everything else and then they start their deployment which is the Surveillance Team goes in with the other teams awaiting for something to happen.

Jose Sanchez: “Whilst arrest in Tropical Dagger and in real life have been made, convictions in the courtroom continue to be lacking. Jose Sanchez for Love News.

This is the third consecutive year that Tropical Dagger has been executed in Belize.