Military Wiki
United States Southern Command
United States Southern Command Logo.svg
Emblem of the United States Southern Command.
Active 1963–present
Country United States
Type Unified Combatant Command
Headquarters Miami, Florida
Nickname(s) USSOUTHCOM
Engagements Operation Unified Response
Operation Continuing Promise
Operation New Horizons
Invasion of Panama
Combatant Commander General John F. Kelly, USMC
Ceremonial chief Vice Admiral Joseph D. Kernan, USN

SOUTHCOM Area Of Responsibility

The United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM), located in Doral, Florida, is one of nine Unified Combatant Commands (CCMDs) in the United States Department of Defense. It is responsible for providing contingency planning and operations in Central and South America, the Caribbean (except U.S. commonwealths, territories, and possessions), their territorial waters, and for the force of U.S. military resources at these locations. USSOUTHCOM is also responsible for ensuring the militarization of the Panama Canal and canal area.

Under the leadership of a four-star Commander, USSOUTHCOM is organized into a headquarters with six main directorates, component commands and military groups that represent SOUTHCOM in the region of Central America, South America and the Caribbean. The current commander is General John F. Kelly, USMC.

USSOUTHCOM is a joint command[1] of more than 1,200 military and civilian personnel representing the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and several other federal agencies. Civilians working at USSOUTHCOM are, for the most part, civilian employees of the Army, as the Army is USSOUTHCOM's Combatant Command Support Agent. The Services provide USSOUTHCOM with component commands which, along with their Joint Special Operations component, two Joint Task Forces, one Joint Interagency Task Force, and Security Cooperation Offices, perform USSOUTHCOM missions and activities. USSOUTHCOM exercises its CCMD authority through the commanders of its components, Joint Task Forces/Joint Interagency Task Force, and Security Cooperation Organizations.

Area of interest

SOUTHCOM Area Of Focus

The USSOUTHCOM Area of Responsibility (AOR) encompasses 32 nations (19 in Central and South America and 13 in the Caribbean), of which 31 are democracies, and 14 U.S. and European territories. As of October 2002, the area of focus covered 14.5 million square miles (23.2 million square kilometers.)[2]

The United States Southern Command area of interest includes:

  • The land mass of Latin America south of Mexico
  • The waters adjacent to Central and South America
  • The Caribbean Sea, its 12 island nations and European territories
  • A portion of the Atlantic Ocean
  • The inhabitants of these areas including civilians


USSOUTHCOM accomplishes much of its mission through its service components, four representing each service and one specializing in Special Operations missions:


U.S. Army South

Located at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, ARSOUTH forces include aviation, intelligence, communication, and logistics units. ARSOUTH supports regional disaster relief and counterdrug efforts. ARSOUTH also exercises oversight, planning, and logistical support for humanitarian and civic assistance projects throughout the region in support of the USSOUTHCOM Theater Security Cooperation Strategy. ARSOUTH provides Title 10 and Executive Agent responsibilities throughout the Latin American and Caribbean region. At any given moment, four thousand troops are deployed in Latin America.[3]

USAF - Air Forces Southern.png

Air Forces Southern

Located at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, AFSOUTH consists of a staff; a Falconer Combined Air and Space Operations Center for command and control of air activity in the USSOUTHCOM area and an Air Force operations group responsible for Air Force forces in the area. AFSOUTH serves as the executive agent for forward operating locations; provides joint/combined radar surveillance architecture oversight; provides intra-theater airlift; and supports USSOUTHCOM's Theater Security Cooperation Strategy through regional disaster relief exercises and counter-drug operations. AFSOUTH also provides oversight, planning, execution, and logistical support for humanitarian and civic assistance projects and hosts a number of Airmen-to-Airmen conferences. Twelfth Air Force is also leading the way in bringing the Chief of Staff of the Air Force's Warfighting Headquarters (WFHQ) concept to life. The WFHQ is composed of a command and control element, an Air Force forces staff and an Air Operations Center. Operating as a WFHQ since June 2004, Twelfth Air Force has served as the Air Force model for the future of Combined Air and Space Operations Centers and WFHQ Air Force forces.


U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command & U.S. Fourth Fleet

Located at Naval Station Mayport, Florida, USNAVSO exercises command and control over all U.S. naval operations in the USSOUTHCOM area including naval exercises, maritime operations, and port visits. USNAVSO is also the executive agent for the operation of the military location at Comalapa, El Salvador, which provides basing in support of aerial counter narco-terrorism operations.

On 24 April 2008, Admiral Gary Roughead, the Chief of Naval Operations, announced that the United States Fourth Fleet would be re-established, effective 1 July, with responsible for U.S. Navy ships, aircraft and submarines operating in the Caribbean Sea, as well as Central and South America. Rear Admiral Joseph D. Kernan was named as the fleet commander and Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command.[4] Up to four ships are deployed in the waters in and around Latin American, at any given time.[3]


U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South

Located in Miami, Florida, USMARFORSOUTH commands all United States Marine Corps Forces (MARFORs) assigned to USSOUTHCOM; advises USSOUTHCOM on the proper employment and support of MARFORs; conducts deployment/redeployment planning and execution of assigned/attached MARFORs; and accomplishes other operational missions as assigned.


Special Operations Command South

Located at Homestead Air Reserve Base near Miami, Florida, USSOCSOUTH provides the primary theater contingency response force and plans, prepares for, and conducts special operations in support of USSOUTHCOM. USSOCSOUTH controls all Special Operations Forces in the region and also establishes and operates a Joint Special Operations Task Force when required. As a Theater Special Operations Command (TSOC), USSOCSOUTH is a sub-unified command of USSOUTHCOM.

There are also three task forces with specific missions in the region that report to U.S. Southern Command:

JTFB logo.jpg

Joint Task Force Bravo

Located at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, JTF -Bravo operates a forward, all-weather day/night C-5-capable airbase. JTF – Bravo organizes multilateral exercises and supports, in cooperation with partner nations, humanitarian and civic assistance, counterdrug, contingency and disaster relief operations in Central America.


Joint Task Force Guantanamo

Located at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, JTF – Guantanamo conducts detention and interrogation operations in support of the War on Terrorism, coordinates and implements detainee screening operations, and supports law enforcement and war crimes as well as Military Commissions for Detained Enemy Combatants. JTF – Guantanamo is also prepared to support mass migration operations at Naval Station GTMO.

JITF South.gif

Joint Interagency Task Force South

Located in Key West, Florida, JIATF South is an interagency task force that serves as the catalyst for integrated and synchronized interagency counter-drug operations and is responsible for the detection and monitoring of suspect air and maritime drug activity in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and the eastern Pacific. JIATF- South also collects, processes, and disseminates counter-drug information for interagency operations. Manta Air Base was one of JIATF-South's bases, in Ecuador until Sept 19, 2009.[5]

Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief

USSOUTHCOM's overseas humanitarian assistance and disaster relief programs build the capacity of host nations to respond to disasters and build their self-sufficiency while also empowering regional organizations.

These programs provide valuable training to U.S. military units in responding effectively to assist the victims of storms, earthquakes, and other natural disasters through the provision of military services, as well as civil construction projects.

The Humanitarian Assistance Program funds projects that enhance the capacity of host nations to respond when disasters strike and better prepare them to mitigate acts of terrorism. Humanitarian Assistance Program projects such as technical aid and the construction of disaster relief warehouses, emergency operation centers, shelters, and schools promote peace and stability, support the development of the civilian infrastructure necessary for economic and social reforms, and modify the living conditions of impoverished regions in the AOR.

Humanitarian assistance exercises such as Nuevos Horizontes (New Horizons) involve construction of schools, clinics, and water wells in countries throughout the region. At the same time, medical readiness exercises involving teams consisting of doctors, nurses and dentists also provide general and specialized health services to host nation citizens requiring care. These humanitarian assistance exercises, which last several months each, provide much needed services and infrastructure, while providing critical training for deployed U.S. military forces. These exercises generally take place in rural, underprivileged areas. USSOUTHCOM attempts to combine these efforts with those of host-nation doctors, either military or civilian, to make it even more beneficial and special.

In 2006, USSOUTHCOM sponsored 69 Medical Readiness Training Exercises in 15 nations, providing medical services to more than 270,000 citizens from the region. During 2007, USSOUTHCOM is scheduled to conduct 61 additional medical exercises in 14 partner nations.

USSOUTHCOM sponsors disaster preparedness exercises, seminars and conferences to improve the collective ability of the U.S. and its partner nations to respond effectively and expeditiously to disasters. USSOUTHCOM has also supported the construction or improvement of three Emergency Operations Centers, 13 Disaster Relief Warehouses and prepositioned relief supplies across the region. Construction of eight additional Emergency Operation Centers and seven additional warehouses is ongoing.

This type of multinational disaster preparedness has proven to increase the ability of USSOUTHCOM to work with America's partner nations. For example, following the 2005 Hurricane Stan in Guatemala, USSOUTHCOM deployed 11 military helicopters and 125 personnel to assist with relief efforts. In conjunction with their Guatemalan counterparts, they evacuated 48 victims and delivered nearly 200 tons of food, medical supplies and communications equipment. Following Tropical Storm Gamma in Honduras, JTF-Bravo deployed nine helicopters and more than 40 personnel to assist with relief efforts. They airlifted more than 100,000 pounds of emergency food, water and medical supplies. USSOUTHCOM was deployed to Haiti following the 2010 Haiti earthquake to lead the humanitarian effort.[6]

USSOUTHCOM also conducts counternarcotics and counternarcoterrorism programs.


The United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) traces its origins to 1903 when the first U.S. Marines arrived in Panama to ensure US control of the Panama Railroad connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans across the narrow waist of the Panamanian Isthmus.

The Marines protected the Panamanian civilian uprising led by former Panama Canal Company general manager Philippe-Jean Bunau-Varilla guaranteeing his creation of the Panamanian state. Following the signing of the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty granting control of the Panama Canal Zone to the United States. The Marines remained to provide security during the early construction days of the Panama Canal.

In 1904, Army Colonel William C. Gorgas was sent to the Canal Zone (as it was then called) as Chief Sanitary Officer to fight yellow fever and malaria. In two years, yellow fever was eliminated from the Canal Zone. Soon after, malaria was also brought under control. With the appointment of Army Lieutenant Colonel George W. Goethals to the post of chief engineer of the Isthmian Canal Commission by then President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, the construction changed from a civilian to a military project.

In 1911, the first troops of the U.S. Army's 10th Infantry Regiment arrived at Camp E. S. Otis, on the Pacific side of the Isthmus. They assumed primary responsibility for Canal defense. In 1914, the Marine Battalion left the Isthmus to participate in operations against Pancho Villa in Mexico . On 14 August 1914, seven years after Goethals' arrival, the Panama Canal opened to world commerce.

The first company of coastal artillery troops arrived in 1914 and later established fortifications at each end ( Atlantic and Pacific) of the Canal, with mobile forces of infantry and light artillery centrally located to support either end. By 1915, a consolidated command was designated as Headquarters, U.S. Troops, Panama Canal Zone. The command reported directly to the Army's Eastern Department headquartered at Fort Jay, Governors Island, New York. The headquarters of this newly created command was first located in the Isthmian Canal Commission building in the town of Ancon, adjacent to Panama City . It relocated in 1916 to the nearby newly designated military post of Quarry Heights, which had begun construction in 1911.

On 1 July 1917, the Panama Canal Department was activated as a geographic command of the U.S. Army. It remained as the senior Army headquarters in the region until activation of the Caribbean Defense Command (CDC) on 10 February 1941. The CDC co-located at Quarry Heights, was commanded by Lieutenant General Daniel Van Voorhis, who continued to command the Panama Canal Department.

The new command eventually assumed operational responsibility over air and naval forces assigned in its area of operations. By early 1942, a Joint Operations Center had been established at Quarry Heights. In the meantime, military strength in the area was gradually rising and reached its peak in January 1943, when 68,000 personnel were defending the Panama Canal. Military strength was sharply reduced with the termination of World War II. Between 1946 and 1974, total military strength in Panama fluctuated between 6,600 and 20,300 (with the lowest force strength in 1959). From 1975 until late 1994 total military strength in Panama remained at about 10,000 personnel.

In December 1946, President Harry S. Truman approved recommendations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for a comprehensive system of military commands to put responsibility for conducting military operations of all military forces in various geographical areas, in the hands of a single commander. Thus, the principle of Unified Combatant Command was established and the Caribbean Command was one of them. Although the Caribbean Command was designated by the Defense Department on 1 November 1947, it did not become fully operational until 10 March 1948, when the old Caribbean Defense Command was inactivated.

On 6 June 1963, reflecting the fact that the command had a responsibility for U.S. military operations primarily in Central and South America, rather than in the Caribbean, it was formally redesignated as the United States Southern Command.

In January 1996 and June 1997, two phases of changes to the Department of Defense Unified Command Plan (UCP) were completed. Each phase of the UCP change added territory to SOUTHCOM's area of responsibility. The impact of the changes is significant. The new AOR includes the Caribbean, its 13 island nations and several U.S. and European territories, the Gulf of Mexico, as well as significant portions of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans . The 1999 update to the UCP – known as VISION 21 – also transfers responsibility of an additional portion of the Atlantic Ocean to SOUTHCOM. On 1 October 2000, USSOUTHCOM assumed responsibility of the adjacent waters in the upper quadrant above Brazil, which was presently under the responsibility of USJFCOM.

The new AOR encompasses 32 nations (19 in Central and South America and 13 in the Caribbean), of which 31 are democracies, and 14 U.S. and European territories covering more than 15,600,000 square miles (40,000,000 km2).

With the creation of the United States Department of Homeland Security, USSOUTHCOM Area of Responsibility (October 2002) experienced minor upper boundary redistribution or changes decreasing its total boundary by 1.1 square miles. (14.5 million square miles (23.2 million square kilometers.)

With the implementation of the Panama Canal Treaties (the Panama Canal Treaty of 1977 and the Treaty concerning the Permanent Neutrality and Operations of the Panama Canal), the U.S. Southern Command was relocated in Miami, Florida on 26 September 1997.

A new headquarters building is currently under construction adjacent to the current rented building in the Doral area of Miami-Dade County. It is expected to be occupied in 2010.

Transformation of U.S. Southern Command to an Interagency-Oriented Organization

U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) is reorganizing to become a more interagency-oriented organization. The Secretary of Defense authorized this reorganization in September 2007, and USSOUTHCOM’s efforts are also highlighted as one of the Top 25 Department of Defense Transformation Priorities. Based upon this guidance from the Secretary of Defense and authority provided in Title 10, U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Section 164, the Combatant Commander is modifying the organization of the Command to better execute its mission.

A principal driver for the reorganization was the Commander’s assessment of the regional security environment, based upon the underlying conditions that foster the security challenges of the USSOUTHCOM area of focus, such as narco-trafficking and other illicit-trafficking activities, and organized crime and gangs. Exacerbated by conditions of poverty, income inequality, and social exclusion, these security challenges are transnational in terms of impact and manifestation, and cross roles and mission lines of U.S. Government departments and agencies.

The new USSOUTHCOM organizational structure (provisionally adopted in May 2008, and fully implemented 1 October 2008) is designed to allow the Command to collaborate proactively with the U.S. Government interagency community and with partner nations in the region—ultimately improving collective responses to regional and transnational security challenges.

Through expanded interagency participation, USSOUTHCOM also intends to improve the regional understanding and situational awareness of Command leadership and staff in order to execute the Command’s mission more effectively. This cooperative participation will build on a strong track record of proven interagency partnerships already in place at the Command – much of which stems from decades of combined work on counternarcotics issues.

Although the reorganization will seek to better support the synchronization of the soft power elements of national security, USSOUTHCOM will remain a DoD geographic combatant command, with the vast majority of personnel and funding sourced by DoD. The fundamental mission remains unchanged – even with an increased focus on interagency approaches. USSOUTHCOM will continue to conduct military operations and security operations with an unbroken and capable military chain of command and authority.

The new organization has several components. Two deputies to the commander, one military and one civilian, will provide broad, senior-level management expertise in order to synchronize USSOUTHCOM activities with Chief of Mission implementation of U.S. foreign policy and ongoing whole-of-government approaches in the region. USSOUTHCOM now has six main directorates—three mission directorates (Security and Intelligence, Stability, and Partnering) and three enabling or functional directorates (Policy and Strategy, Resources and Assessments, and Enterprise Support). Interagency representatives from over 17 U.S. Government departments and agencies are integrated throughout the new structure according to the function of the directorate, with many in key senior leadership roles. For example, the Partnering Directorate benefits from the integration of two senior interagency representatives – a State Department Senior Foreign Service Officer as the deputy, and a senior GS-15 representative from the U.S. Agency for International Development as a division chief.

In concert with the USSOUTHCOM reorganization, the Combatant Commander established a new strategic planning process that ensures unity of effort as we work to achieve the goals and objectives contained within the interagency informed Command Strategy 2018. This strategic planning process helps to focus and align all command activities and capabilities, prioritize critical resource requirements, and measure progress toward achieving the USSOUTHCOM mission.

With an emphasis on interagency support and developed with interagency involvement, the Command Strategy 2018 also helps enable a broader and critical cultural change in the Command which will result in an improved ability to work more efficiently with interagency partners.

See also


  1. See TITLE 10 > Subtitle A > PART I > CHAPTER 6 > § 164 for assignment, powers and duties.
  3. 3.0 3.1 martha Mendoza (3 February 2013). "Military expands its drug war in Latin America". Retrieved 7 February 2013. 
  4. [1] Navy Re-Establishes U.S. Fourth Fleet – DOD New Release No. 338-07 – 24 April 2008

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).