The U.S. Coast Guard has ended its antiterrorism patrols of the waters around Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, shutting down a special security operation that was rushed to the remote outpost after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Crews in special fast boats equipped with M2 heavy machine guns patrolled the coast near the prison complex for 21 years as part of the detention operations on the base. Members of the Coast Guard also served as courtroom security guards at military commission hearings and staffed sandbagged seaside bunkers that the military called “battle positions.”
The recent move is the latest reduction of the forces assigned to the detention operation, where 780 detainees were held between 2002 and 2008, all brought by the George W. Bush administration. The number has dwindled to 30 prisoners from 40 at the start of the Biden administration.
The military had already reduced the prison staff to about 1,000 troops and civilians with the closure of a Camp 7, where so-called high-value detainees were held, and the withdrawal of a public affairs unit.
Why It Matters: The mission had cost tens of millions of dollars each year.
The withdrawal of the Coast Guard unit is likely to save money on what has been an expensive enterprise of the war against terrorism. In 2019, the operation cost more than $13 million per prisoner a year.
In a report to Congress, the Department of Homeland Security said it spent more than $50 million in 2021 to deploy and maintain 180 Coast Guard members to Guantánamo Bay.
The decision likely also signals an intelligence assessment that fears have ebbed about Al Qaeda or other enemies attacking the base from the sea.
Background: The deployment was a response to post-9/11 fears.
The Defense Department scrambled the first Coast Guard port security unit to Guantánamo in January 2002, before the first detainees arrived.
Thirty-nine U.S.-based Coast Guard or Coast Guard Reserve security units deployed in succession to the detention operation, starting and ending with the same Virginia unit, which shut down the military mission this week.
The special teams, with gunners equipped with .50 caliber machine guns, were a consistent security presence on the bay as U.S. forces ferried detainees from the base airstrip to the prison.
Detention operation commanders said through the years that no enemy forces were ever encountered, though from time to time the units intercepted would-be migrants approaching the base.
What’s Next: Existing base forces will cover their duties.
The Coast Guard said in a news release that the harbor patrol and Marine security forces on the base would handle the “antiterrorism force protection” duties. Those units do not work for the detention operation, but rather they answer to the Navy base commander.
The Coast Guard made the announcement this week as hearings resumed at Guantánamo in a death penalty case against a Saudi prisoner who is accused of orchestrating Al Qaeda’s suicide bombing of the U.S.S. Cole warship off Yemen on Oct. 12, 2000. Seventeen sailors were killed.
This month, the military will install its 22nd commander of the Guantánamo detention mission. An Army colonel will take charge after two decades of command by one- and two-star generals or admirals.