Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How Many Clandestine Airstrips?

The new math has come to the Armed Forces of Honduras!  If you follow the statements by the Honduran Armed Forces, you are forced to conclude that 24+26= 70

There are 70 clandestine drug airstrips known to the military in Honduras.  Think about it;  they know about 70 clandestine drug airfields, and haven't done anything about them.  When they first made this admission a few months ago it puzzled me.

If the enemy is using a resource, deny that resource to the enemy.  That seems obvious, right? Among the constitutionally assigned duties of the Honduran military is fighting drug trafficking.  So destroying those landing strips seems like an obvious tactic.

Why weren't they doing anything to destroy these airfields until now?

Now they're doing something.  As a recent New York Times article informs us, in association with the stationing of US military forces at four US built forward bases at Guanaja, Puerto Castilla, Aguacate, and Morocon, joint operations are now targeting the destruction of some of these airfields.

Three Honduran departments hold the majority of these airfields: 25 in Olancho, 15 in Colon, and 10 in El Paraiso.  In case you're counting, that adds up to 50 airfields, or roughly 71% of the total 70.

Notice that the Department of Gracias a Dios, bordering on Nicaragua, is not mentioned.  More about that later.

The Honduran military are working with a DEA FAST (Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team) team to now blow up airstrips, some of which have been known to the Honduran military for years.

Since the military love naming their projects, this one is called Operation Armadillo 2.  The second phase of Operation Armadillo 2 ended in April with the destruction of 17 clandestine airstrips.  How are they destroying the airstrips?  Helicopters fly teams from these forward bases to the airstrip, where US trainers guide Honduran Special Forces in the placement of 5 to 7 explosive charges to create craters in the runway.

The 17 destroyed airstrips were apparently in the department of Gracias a Dios.

Reading between the lines, it seems likely that the Honduran military lacked the explosives and expertise in using them, and that may, in part, account for their lack of action until now.

Honduran Joint Chiefs Chairman General Rene Osorio Canales told the Honduran press that the third phase of Operation Armadillo 2 was about to kick off, but he couldn't mention details.  He assured us that all of the known airfields will be destroyed by the end of 2012.

But the official spokesperson for the Defense Ministry, colonel Jeremías Arévalo Guifarro, has some different numbers.  He says that there are only 50 clandestine airfields known to the military, and that they have already destroyed 24 of them.  The other 26, according to Colonel Arévalo Guifarro, are scheduled for destruction.

So which is it?  50 total airfields, as Arévalo Guifarro claims, or the 70 that the Armed Forces previously announced?  17 airfields destroyed as reported by General Osorio Canales, or 24 as reported by Colonel Arévalo Guifarro?

While Osorio Canales assures us that all of the known clandestine airfields will be destroyed by the end of 2012, Arévalo Guifarro says 50 of them will be destroyed.

It seems pertinent to point out that Colonel Arévalo Guifarro is the same spokesman who seemed out of touch in reporting on the "forced" landing of a drug plane in Yoro a few days ago.

Still, I find myself left with a question. These are grass-covered dirt landing strips build in remote areas by labor organized by the drug traffickers long before airplanes could land there.  Why can't they just fill in the holes in the same way that they created the airfield? or level the terrain adjacent to the existing landing strip in the same way they created it in the first place?  Isn't this just a game of Whack A Mole?

The drug traffickers almost certainly can restore these airfields, so without a program of continued surveillance of these locations this is just an inconvenience for them.

The only clear enduring product of this campaign is Armed Forces PR. And they can't even get their math straight.

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