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LatinNews Daily - 3 June 2015

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Honduras-US:Special Marine task force will be based in Palmerola

The US embassy in Tegucigalpa announced on 9 May that Honduras and the US would be conducting within a few days a joint civic-military exercise to improve rapid-response procedures, which will enable both countries to be "better prepared for the challenges they face". A month earlier the story had been phrased somewhat differently by Honduran defence minister, Samuel Reyes: the US had filed a request for the entry of a military contingent to Honduras, while media reports spoke of the US wishing to base a special task force at the Soto Cano airbase in Palmerola. The emphasis appears to have been nuanced for PR purposes.

The embassy communiqué cited Reyes as saying that personnel from both countries had been preparing for the exercise, codenamed 'Respuesta Rápida' (‘rapid response’), for more than a year. "This", Reyes said, "is another example of the many ways in which Honduras and the US work together to face our shared security challenges, including organised crime, drug trafficking and people trafficking."

In the US, on 13 May, the Marine Corps Times (published by Military Times Group & Gannett Government Media — not an official organ) presented the story somewhat differently: "About 250 Marines are preparing to form the US military’s first rapid-response task force to be based in Central America, where they’ll train with local forces battling drug cartels and stand ready to help in the event of hurricanes and other natural disasters".

The unit, assembling already at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, designated Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-South (SPMAGTF-South), is reported as including about 100 Marines from the 8th Engineer Support Battalion, and detachments from II Marine Expeditionary Force and 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing: 180, including most of the engineers, headquartered at Soto Cano in Honduras, while other teams will be posted to Belize, El Salvador and Guatemala.

The commander of the task force, Lieutenant-Colonel David Hudak, said that a unique feature of the SPMAGTF-South was that it will have teams distributed across the four countries, "but if there were a natural disaster or an event the US was called to respond to, we’d have a limited but immediate capability to provide an initial short-term response". The task force is set up to reassemble rapidly for such occasions, for which it has four Super Stallion helicopters and a high-speed navy vessel.

Unlike the other special response units established in Spain (for Africa) and in five Middle Eastern countries, SPMAGTF-South, will only be deployed for half-a year at a time, from June to November — the hurricane season. This June the task force will take part in Trade Winds, a regional exercise involving forces from Belize, the Caribbean, Mexico and Canada. Marine General John Kelly, head of the US Southern Command, has said that he expected the task force to be temporary and focused mainly on humanitarian missions, and that he personally would not favour making it permanent, because the Central American governments "don’t need them".