Operation Martillo

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Unloading captured drugs at Miami Beach, 2014
USCGC Hamilton crew next to 26.5 tons of cocaine, 2016

Operation Martillo is a multi-national anti drug operation that began on 15 January 2012 and aims to combat international drug trafficking, and promote peace, stability in Central and South America.


The United States Southern Command's (SOUTHCOM) Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-South), based in Key West, Florida[1]

National forces[edit]

U.S. Navy SH-60B Seahawk helicopter takes off from USS Rentz


Land based support by the Belize Defense Force and Police with additional support from Canada.[2]


The Canadian participation in the operation, which began in 2006 has been given the code name Operation Caribbe given the object of eliminating illegal trafficking in the Caribbean Sea and the eastern Pacific Ocean by organized crime and includes air and sea forces.


The world’s largest production country for cocaine. A DH-8 aircraft employed in Operation Martillo crashed in Colombia in October 2013 resulting in the death of three Americans and one Panamanian operatives.[3]

In May 2015, Colombia announced it was stopping using a controversial herbicide to destroy plantations of coca following a warning by the World Health Organization (WHO) that glyphosate is "probably carcinogenic".[4]

Costa Rica[edit]

A major conduit through which the cocaine traffic moves towards the United States with the Costa Rica Security Ministry predicting a huge increase to 1,700 tons moving through the country in 2016.[5]

El Salvador[edit]

Granting permission for U.S. forces to use El Salvador as a base in the hunt for illegal drug shipments has allowed groups like Patrol Squadron 8 to fly missions from the country.[6]


Land based operations, with the country permitting US Marines to join in the fight against drugs.[7]


The Honduran Navy and US Coast Guard intercepted a sinking self-propelled semi-submersible vessel in March 2012.[8]


The Royal Netherlands Navy deploying ships,[9] with the Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard supplying aircraft.[10] A parallel operation Operation Caribbean Venture under the command of the Commander Netherlands Forces in the Caribbean, who works closely with JIATF-South and has the same objectives as Operation Martillo. HNLMS Friesland and HNLMS Zeeland have successfully participated in the operation.


Nicaraguan army small craft, assisted by the US Coast Guard intercepted US$32m worth of cocaine in June 2012,[11] and a further 9.2 million in November 2014.[12]


In 2012 Panama authorities seized 15.5 tons of drugs.[13] In April 2013 a further US$242m of cocaine was seized on a go-fast boat.[14]


Spain provide ships, aircraft, and liaison officers.[15]

United Kingdom[edit]

Royal Navy resources undertaking maritime security operations. Ships who have been involved include HMS Argyll which seized US$128 million worth of drugs in 2013,[16] and RFA Wave Knight which seized £60m or 1.25 tons of cocaine with the US Coast Guard in 2014.[17][18]

United States[edit]

In addition to SOUTHCOM, the United States Coast Guard, United States Navy, United States Marine Corps and United States Air Forces all provide resources for the operation as well as Drug Enforcement and Law Enforcement Agencies.


Between January 2012 and April 2013, the operation intercepted 171 tons of cocaine and 28,000 pounds of marijuana; detained 411 criminal suspects; recovered US$7.4 million in laundered cash; and seized or destroyed 139 speedboats, fishing vessels, aircraft, pangas, and Drug-trafficking Submersibles.[19] [20]

Between January 2012 and May 2015, 515 tons of cocaine and 117,754 pounds of marijuana have been seized, worth US$8 billion to drug organizations. It has also led to the arrest of at least 1,348 people.[21]

Between January 2012 and February 2017, 693 tons of cocaine, US$25 million in cash, 581 vessels and aircraft detained and 1,863 detainees arrested.[22]

Difficulties and solutions[edit]

"Because of asset shortfalls, we’re unable to get after 74 percent of suspected maritime drug smuggling,"[21] Southern Command Cmdr. Marine Gen. John Kelly was quoted as saying in 2014. In 2015 there was a 50% increase in the number of US cutters and an increase in maritime aircraft patrols.[21] (1,426 maritime drug movements were documented in 2014, JIATF-South was only able to target 383).[15]

With 14 nations working together, the co-ordination of operations is essential. Between October 2014 and April 2015 64% of all seizures and disruptions involved a non US nation’s participation, of which most were critical to the success of the seizure. Allied and Partner Nations vessels and aircraft often being used to spot, identify and monitor potential smugglers before passing the information to US intercepts.[15]

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNOCD) estimate the 2013 annual world production of cocaine at between 660 and 900 tons. Seizures in Operation Martillo rising from 78 tons in 2012 to 162 tons in 2013. UNOCD indicating in 2015 an increased production in Columbia of 44%[23] and Costa Rica estimating a dramatic rise in world production in 2016.[5]


  1. ^ "Operation Martillo". www.southcom.mil. Retrieved 2017-12-14.
  2. ^ "Belize on Drug Trafficking". Council on Hemispheric Affairs. 4 February 2015.
  3. ^ "Airman killed conducting operations in Colombia". US Air Force. 9 October 2013.
  4. ^ "Colombia coca leaf production up by 44% - UN". BBC. 2 July 2015.
  5. ^ a b "CentAm Drug Initiative Boasts Questionable Victories in 5th Year". Insight Crime. 1 April 2016.
  6. ^ "Operation Martillo (Hammer)". Defence Media Network. 31 August 2012.
  7. ^ "200 US Marines join drug war in Guatemala". CBS News. 30 August 2012.
  8. ^ "Honduras Participation in Operation Martillo a Success". Honduras News. 2 September 2013.
  9. ^ "Royal Netherlands Navy Conducts Operation Martillo". World Maritime News. 22 February 2012.
  10. ^ "Dutch Navy led operation results in 500kg cocaine drug bust". St Maarten News. 5 April 2012.
  11. ^ "Operation Martillo: US, Nicaraguan forces seize US$32M in cocaine". Digital Military Magazine. 15 June 2012.
  12. ^ "Cocaine Haul seized off Nicaragua". World Maritime News. 5 November 2014.
  13. ^ "Operation Martillo: Panamanian, U.S. forces seize huge drug cargo". Digital Military Magazine. 9 August 2012.
  14. ^ "Boat Carrying $242M In Coke Intercepted Off The Coast Of Panama". CBS Miami. 23 April 2013.
  15. ^ a b c "Hearing on "Western Hemisphere Drug Interdiction Efforts"" (PDF). US House of Representatives. 12 June 2015.
  16. ^ "Operation MARTILLO: UK Royal Navy Argyll rejoins mission". Dialogo. 25 July 2014.
  17. ^ "Royal Navy Crew Join £60m Caribbean Cocaine Bust". International Business Times. 29 January 2014.
  18. ^ "Royal Yacht it is not: Prince Harry to sleep on tanker vessel during Caribbean tour". The Telegraph. 14 November 2016.
  19. ^ "Drug-trafficking Submersibles". Defense Media Network. 1 September 2012.
  20. ^ "Operation Martillo: The Hammer Hasn't Fallen – Yet". Defense Media Network. 10 May 2013.
  21. ^ a b c "Coast Guard lowers hammer on drug-running on high seas". Miami Herald. 28 June 2015.
  22. ^ "Operation Martillo". US Southern Command. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  23. ^ "Columbia - Coca cultivation survey 2014" (PDF). UNOCD. July 2015.