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United States Military Assistance and Training




Super Mystère B-2 (top), F-5 Tiger II (center), and C-101 Aviojet aircraft of the Honduran air force
Courtesy Department of Defense, Still Media Records Center

Since the 1930s, the United States has been the armed forces' major source of military assistance. Initially, such assistance aided in the formation of a fledgling air force, and emphasis on this service branch continued through the 1940s. United States lend-lease funds granted to Honduras during World War II were used primarily for aircraft, engine parts, and support equipment. Following the signing of a military assistance agreement in 1954, the focus of United States aid shifted toward the army. New combat battalions were created, and increasing numbers of Honduran military personnel were trained at the United States Army School of the Americas. Military assistance funding increased dramatically during the 1960s, from US$1.1 million for the years 1953 to 1961 to US$5.9 million for the years 1962 to 1969.

During the early 1980s, conflict in Central America increased Honduras's strategic importance and led the United States government to maintain a significant military presence in Central America as a counterforce against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Sharp increases in military assistance to Honduras followed the buildup of United States troops and equipment in Honduras. In 1983 United States forces began a series of large- scale maneuvers in Honduras that not only provided joint training for United States and Honduran forces but also allowed the administration of Ronald W. Reagan to skirt congressional limits on military aid to that country and the Contras. Throughout the 1980s, the United States also built or improved military-related installations such as airfield, barracks, and radar stations.

In February 1983, the United States and Honduras conducted a joint military exercise called Big Pine, which was the largest of its kind ever held in Honduras. A total of 1,600 United States military personnel and 4,000 Honduran soldiers participated in exercises designed to help Honduras improve its deployment techniques and logistical support in the field. United States Army elements provided mobility for Honduran forces and logistics and communications assistance. United States Navy elements included two landing ships and two landing craft. United States Air Force personnel participated in the coordination of landing and air supply operations. A number of training personnel, mostly from the United States Army, remained in the country to train the Honduran army in infantry tactics. Also during the exercises, a sizable radar installation staffed by over fifty United States Air Force technicians was placed south of Tegucigalpa.

The number of United States advisers increased further in mid- 1983 when the United States and Honduras approved a new training agreement as an amendment to the 1954 military assistance agreement. The two countries constructed a military training facility, near Puerto Castilla on the Caribbean coast, at a cost of some US$250,000. The primary purpose of this facility, called the Regional Center for Military Training (Centro Regional de Entrenamiento Militar--CREM), was to train Salvadoran ground forces, although Hondurans also received training. The center initially had about 125 United States Army Special Forces personnel, raising the total number of trainers in the country to approximately 270 in July 1983.

Although CREM closed in 1985, United States military advisers remained. Between 1983 and 1993, the United States and Honduras have carried out an almost continuous string of joint military maneuvers on Honduran soil. To facilitate the maneuvers and strengthen Honduras's military infrastructure, the Honduran government has built a network of roads, improved ports, and constructed additional airfields.

Between August 1983 and February 1984, United States forces carried out Big Pine II, a considerably more extensive military exercise than the earlier Big Pine maneuvers, involving up to 5,000 United States military personnel. Extensive naval maneuvers involved two United States Navy aircraft carrier task forces, another task force led by the battleship U.S.S. New Jersey, and a landing by the United States Marines on the Caribbean coast during portions of the exercises. The purpose, according to a senior United States official, was to demonstrate the ability of United States military forces to operate in Central America and to persuade the Sandinista government of Nicaragua to desist from fomenting insurrection in the region.

A simulated defense of Honduras from a mock Nicaraguan invasion was staged between February and May 1985. Called Big Pine III and Universal Trek, the military exercises involved thirty-nine United States warships, as well as 7,000 United States troops and 5,000 Honduran troops. The exercises, which featured a massive amphibious landing on the northeastern coast of Honduras, were the most intricate peacetime military maneuvers the United States ever carried out in Central America. The war games prompted concern among some Hondurans that their country's national sovereignty was being compromised and that the Honduran people might be pushed unwillingly into a regional war. Honduran trade unions organized demonstrations that called for the withdrawal of United States troops.

An even bigger show of force occurred in Honduras during Operation Solid Shield in May 1987. This exercise simulated a United States response to a request from Honduras to help fight a Nicaraguan invasion, and it coincided with larger United States military exercises carried out on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques and at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The Honduran phase of this operation involved more than 7,000 United States military personnel as well as 3,000 Honduran soldiers. As part of the exercises, a combined air and sea landing in Honduras was undertaken by a brigade of 3,000 helicopter assault troops from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and a marine amphibious unit of 1,800 from Camp Lejeune. These maneuvers tested the ability of the army, navy, marine corps, air force, and coast guard to mobilize and operate together in a large-scale operation, which was also meant to help train and build a logistical infrastructure for the Contras based in Honduras. Daniel José Ortega Saavedra, who was then the president of Nicaragua, accused the United States of planning an invasion of his country.

During the early 1990s, Honduras continued to serve as a military outpost for the United States. The Enrique Soto Cano Air Base, located about ninety kilometers northwest of Tegucigalpa near Comayagüela, is operated by the Honduran air force but functions as the nerve center of intelligence gathering, communications, and logistical support for United States military operations in Honduras. While billing it as a temporary site, the Pentagon, beginning in 1983, began spending hundreds of millions of dollars in order to transform the once-sleepy facility into the most advanced base in Central America. The United States extended the airstrip to handle any military aircraft belonging to the United States and installed sophisticated listening devices and radar to track the communications and movements of El Salvador's leftist guerrillas and to coordinate air strikes against them. The base also handled communications with the Contra rebels who were attempting to overthrow Nicaragua's Sandinista government.

As of 1993, the huge base was home for Joint Task Force Bravo (JTFB), a contingent of 1,100 United States troops that rotate through on a temporary basis, and about 600 Honduran soldiers. JTFB, which is a joint command of the United States Army and the United States Air Force, coordinates military operations, as well as the joint operations, with Honduran forces. The United States has never paid base rights because the facility is officially on temporary loan from the Honduran government. Upkeep of the Enrique Soto Cano Air Base costs the United States about US$50 million a year.

The three elements of the United States military assistance program for Honduras come under IMET, MAP, and the FMS. Under the IMET program, Honduras received US$14.2 million between 1962 and 1986; it received an additional US$5.8 million between 1987 and 1991. During the 1980s, the IMET program provided military education to 9,500 Honduran military officers at bases in the United States and other locations. During the same period, El Salvador was the only Latin American country to receive more military training than Honduras under the IMET program. In addition to the IMET training at the United States Army School of the Americas (in Panama before 1985, thereafter at Fort Benning, Georgia), Mobile Training Teams (MTTs) of the United States Special Forces entered the country for short periods to train Honduran soldiers in counterinsurgency tactics and other military skills.

MAP grants to Honduras totaled US$257.2 million between 1962 and 1986; additional MAP grants totaling US$140 million were made available from 1987 to 1989. FMS credits totaled US$44.4 million from 1978 to 1983, and although Honduras did not receive FMS credits between 1983 and 1990, it did receive US$51 million in credits during 1991 and 1992.

Other United States military-related programs also aided Hondurans during the 1980s. Under the Overseas Security Assistance Management Program, the United States stationed military managerial personnel in Honduras and authorized nearly US$2 million each year for this program. Honduras also benefited from United States Department of Defense military construction grants, which financed the construction and maintenance of military airfields, radar stations, ammunition storage warehouses, training facilities, and a strategic road network. The United States military retains access and usage rights to many of these facilities. In just a two-year period--1987 and 1988--about US$8.2 million was spent for United States military construction in Honduras.

In 1985 Honduras and El Salvador were exempted by the United States Congress from the prohibition of using United States aid for foreign police forces. As a result, Fusep has been the beneficiary of US$2.8 million in training, riot-control gear, vehicles, communications equipment, and weapons. Aid to the Honduran police has also been provided under the Anti-Terrorism Assistance program, which is managed by the United States Department of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Other police training has been sponsored by the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP), which is managed by the United States Department of Justice.

Between 1983 and 1990, forty-seven United States military personnel died in Honduras as a result of accidents and shootings. During the same period, several bombings, some claimed by leftist guerrillas, wounded about a dozen American soldiers stationed in Honduras.

As recently as August 1993, United States and Honduran troops and naval elements carried out joint exercises in various parts of Honduras under the code name Cabañas 93. The operation tested the coastal patrolling, drug interdiction, parachuting, and psychological warfare capabilities of the two armies.

Data as of December 1993

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