Posted on behalf of Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft .
Wrapping up my remarks at the National Defense University last month, I told senior military leaders in the audience that if they remembered anything I said, it was that strategic leadership boils down to establishing guiding principles, setting priorities, knowing your operating environment and – lastly, but most importantly – finding as many partners as you can to solve the tough problems this uncertain world is going to throw at you.
As such, the U.S. Coast Guard must be in lock-step with our Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Department of Justice, Department of Defense and other interagency and international partners to be successful in “combating networks” – the first priority of the Coast Guard’s Western Hemisphere Strategy. These partnerships were at the forefront as The Interdiction Committee engaged with stakeholders in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Panama, Colombia and Honduras last week.
Close coordination and cooperation among agencies is essential for mission execution. Whether it is fostering intelligence sharing or supporting enforcement operations, criminal organizations can only be dismantled through strong partnerships at the international, federal, state, local and tribal level. In Puerto Rico, we saw this cooperation during our meeting with partners from the Caribbean Corridor Initiative and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program. As Office of National Drug Control Policy Deputy Director Marilyn Quagliotti stated, HIDTA helps the interagency pursue common objectives. The resulting Unity of Effort from these common objectives is critical in Puerto Rico which is a frequently used transshipment point for criminal networks trafficking narcotics to the U.S. mainland.
Operation Bahamas, Turks and Caicos is another great example of a joint partnership effort on the front lines of combating networks. Comprised of personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard, Royal Bahamian Defense Force, Department of State, Drug Enforcement Administration and Customs and Border Protection, this operation alone interdicted $62 million in illegal narcotics last year. I was in attendance when they were presented the annual U.S. Interdiction Coordinator award for excellence in drug interdiction efforts. This 32-year partnership with the governments of the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos is a shining success of international and interagency cooperation.
U.S. Coast Guard operations in the Western Hemisphere are driven by a strategy that compliments broader national objectives. Service-specific objectives are complimentary and coordinated with national and international efforts, including the Department’s Southern Border and Approaches Campaign Plan. Last week, Sec. Johnson signed a memo establishing the overarching goals of this campaign: enforce our immigration laws and interdict individuals seeking to illegally cross our land, sea and air borders; degrade transnational criminal organizations; and decrease the terrorism threat to the Nation, all without impeding the flow of lawful trade, travel and commerce.
The Coast Guard is a unique instrument of national security, crossing law enforcement, military, diplomatic and economic spheres of influence. What we lack in capacity – particularly in comparison to our fellow military services – we make up for in broad authorities and extensive partnerships enhancing Unity of Effort within the Department of Homeland Security and beyond.