Comalapa Air Base, El Salvador
Comalapa is the newest of the four counterdrug Forward Operating Locations (FOL). The withdrawal of US forces from Panama in 1999 led to the development of alternatives to support multi-national counter drug missions. The US Navy and Air Force developed the concept of the Forward Operating Location (FOL) to support deployed forces and aircraft conducting these operations, under the auspices of US Southern Command in Miami, Florida. The FOL provides deployed forces the infrastructure to conduct around the clock operations to include operational and maintenance support, communication capabilities, billeting, and other services as required. As of late 2000 there were four operational FOL sites, with P-3C Maritime Patrol Aircraft deployed to Naval Station Roosevelt Roads primarily utilizing the sites in Manta, Ecuador and Comalapa, El Salvador.
FOLs are not bases, but staging airfields, owned and operated by the host nation as part of our collective efforts to stem the flow of illegal narcotics into the United States. Without these FOLs, the US would be unable to effectively carry out our detection and monitoring mission and would fall well short - 50 percent - of the historical coverage provided from Howard AFB. Coverage in the deep source zone, the area identified as "critical" in the President's National Drug Control Strategy, would be severely degraded.
On 6 November 1998, President Bill Clinton formally directed the Department of Defense to aid hurricane-stricken Central American countries. Operation Fuerte Apoyo (Strong Support) was the largest US disaster relief/humanitarian assistance mission in history for Central America. As part of the US military's commitment to the relief effort, JTF-Bravo, stationed at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, since 1983, was first on the scene. The military headquarters for the operation, Joint Task Force-Aguila (Eagle), at Comalapa Air Base, El Salvador, coordinated engineer, medical and humanitarian relief for 20.3 million people over a 259,925 square-mile area in the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. At the peak of Operation Fuerte Apoyo, about 4,800 US Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy personnel were in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Redeployment of forces scheduled was complete by 22 February 1999. US. rehabilitation and humanitarian assistance continued through New Horizons 99 exercises scheduled for March through September.
August 31, 2000 marked a new era in maritime patrol. For the first time, a P-3 flew operationally from Comalapa air base in El Salvador. After the US bases in Panama closed, US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) began a search to find an airfield in the eastern pacific that would serve to replace Panama as a forward operating location (FOL) for maritime patrol, reducing transit times and increasing on- station effectiveness.