Cover: Building the Guatemalan Interagency Task Force Tecún Umán

Building the Guatemalan Interagency Task Force Tecún Umán

Lessons Identified

Published Feb 9, 2015

by Gillian S. Oak


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Research Questions

  1. What progress has been made by Interagency Task Force Tecún Umán in combatting international drug trafficking?
  2. What lessons can be drawn from the development of IATF Tecún Umán, and how can they improve the effectiveness of current and future task forces?
  3. What can the U.S. and Guatemalan governments do to overcome the challenges still facing IATF Tecún Umán?

Guatemala is a major transit point for drugs bound for the United States and the recipient of U.S. counternarcotics aid and technical assistance, much of which is provided through U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) and U.S. Army South. As a first step by Guatemala in putting this aid to work toward developing its own counternarcotics capacity, the president of Guatemala established the Interagency Task Force (IATF) Tecún Umán. USSOUTHCOM has expressed the intent to apply the IATF as a model to other similarly porous border regions in the area. Thus, documenting and using lessons from the IATF Tecún Umán will help in the development of new and similar units. This report is intended to support that lessons-learned function, demonstrate how these preliminary lessons are being applied to future IATF development, and provide recommendations on how to resolve remaining IATF challenges.

Lessons learned include the importance of establishing the interagency legal framework early, clearly defining the interagency relationships, developing an intelligence capability organic to the task force, implementing police authority and leadership, identifying measures of success, communicating the IATF's purpose and success to the public, and maintaining equipment. Remaining tasks include resolving the duality-of-command issue, improving operational planning capability, addressing corruption problems, and addressing IATF Tecún Umán issues before refocusing efforts to IATF Chortí. The United States has played a key role in supporting Guatemala's efforts to overcome these challenges. By investing in the IATF and building capacity, the United States will contribute to the Guatemalans' ability to sustain the IATF themselves.

Key Findings

The legal framework and early definition of interagency relationships are vital to success.

  • Creating a legal framework and documentation with support from all involved government agencies was crucial for gaining complete cooperation in establishing IATF Tecún Umán. However, the required legal documents were not issued until after the unit had been established and personnel had started working. Had the framework been documented first, many of the growing pains in the interagency relationships might have been avoided.

IATF Tecún Umán lacks an organic intelligence capability.

  • Most IATF personnel are capable of gathering their own tactical intelligence, but they have no place to feed it and no support or authority to plan or conduct autonomous operations, thus limiting their ability to react to any intelligence threats discovered.

The military is still running the IATF at the tactical level.

  • Although IATF Tecún Umán leadership at the operational level consists of military personnel, police are being trained to take over the leadership roles, as was intended.

Operational effectiveness isn't consistently measured or communicated to the public.

  • The office of the vice minister for counternarcotics and IATF leadership have made progress in collecting data and measures focused on the effects of the operations in which the IATF was involved, but assessment capability is still limited. Demonstrating the value of the IATF to the Guatemalan people, especially those nearby, is also important.

Lack of logistical support jeopardizes equipment sustainment and maintenance.


  • Resolve the duality-of-command issue. Guatemalan leadership, with U.S. support, needs to ensure each level understands and commits to associated roles and responsibilities, from the most senior leader to the most junior soldier or police agent on the ground.
  • To create operational planning capability, Guatemala and the United States should work together to set up an operational planning cell in the vice minister's office and establish an intelligence feedback loop to inform planning.
  • Guatemala and the United States should collaborate in developing and executing train-the-trainer courses to develop organic training capability, allowing Guatemalans to train their own forces.
  • The United States should continue to work with the Guatemalans on applying stringent vetting to police hires, investigating corruption charges, and ensuring that the police academies are closely complying with new regulations to prevent corruption problems.
  • The Guatemalans should refocus on resolving the major problems that prevent IATF Tecún Umán from conducting autonomous operations. Having invested millions of dollars in IATF Tecún Umán, the United States should make clear that the development and success of the new IATF Chortí is tied to finishing the job at Tecún Umán.

This research was conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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