Aug. 31 (UPI) -- The USS Sioux City began its initial deployment to support enhanced counternarcotics operations in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific regions, the Navy announced.
The Freedom-class littoral combat ship departed Naval Station Mayport, Fla., its home station, on Sunday to join the U.S. Southern Command, whose current missions encompasses "operations to reduce the availability of illicit drugs and save lives in the United States and throughout the region," a SOUTHCOM statement said.
"The intent is to reduce the flow of illicit drugs, degrade transnational criminal organizations, and increase interoperability with our partner nations and interagency partners," Navy officials said.
The operations of the ship, commissioned in 2018, will include exercises with partner nations and interoperability with the Navy's 4th Fleet.
The deployment comes after Defense Secretary Mark Esper directed the U.S. Southern Command in April to conduct an enhanced counternarcotics effort the area. The program involves 22 nations and 16 federal agencies
"This enabled us to more effectively detect the illicit trafficking of deadly narcotics and to disrupt transnational criminal organizations who are well-financed, well-equipped, and highly adaptable," Rear Adm. Andrew Tiongson, SOUTHCOM operations director, said in a briefing on Friday.
"This enhancement to our operations has allowed us to continue to fight and disrupt the vicious circle of threats that exists in our shared neighborhood," Tiongson said.
In addition to an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter and an MQ-88 unmanned aerial vehicle, the USS Sioux City will carry a U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement detachment.
Last week, SOUTHCOM hosted its first South America Defense Conference, a virtual gathering of defense chiefs from 15 countries to reinforce the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and law-enforcement-led operations against international criminal organizations.