Aug. 27 (UPI) -- U.S. Southern Command hosted defense leaders from South America Thursday during the first virtual South America Defense Conference.
SOUTHCOM invited chiefs of defense from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Perú, Paraguay, Suriname and Uruguay to the annual conference, as well as defense leaders from Canada, French Guiana, Spain and the United Kingdom.
Also present at the conference were National Guard leaders from nearly a dozen states.
The purpose of the annual conference is to "facilitate an open and candid dialogue between the region's top military leaders" and share security cooperation ideas.
U.S. Navy Adm. Craig Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, hosted the forum, joined by U.S. leaders and security experts from the Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, and the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies.
This year leaders discussed their support of the region's ongoing response to the pandemic and law-enforcement-led operations against international criminal organizations, according to SOUTHCOM.
In April, the White House announced that SOUTHCOM would lead counter-narcotics operations to support the National Drug Control Strategy.
That has resulted in the seizure of more than 154 metric tons of cocaine and more than 40,000 pounds of marijuana, which SOUTHCOM estimates has created a loss of more than $4 billion in criminal profits for trafficking organizations.
That includes the seizure of more than 120 kilograms of suspected cocaine worth $4.5 million 200 nautical miles southwest of Jamaica at the end of July.
Conference participants also discussed humanitarian partnerships to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Since March, SOUTHCOM has worked with partner nations in South America, Central America and the Caribbean to support their COVID-19 response and mitigation efforts. Under its Humanitarian Assistance Program, the command has purchased and donated supplies, equipment and other vital resources to support the efforts of 28 nations," with humanitarian assistance SOUTHCOM's press release said.
Earlier this week, the command donated three field hospitals to Costa Rica.
Officials plan to donate 21 more field hospitals to 11 countries in the region.