Exercise Fuerzas Aliades PANAMAX 2008 involves military and civilian forces from 20 nations to increase multinational interoperability and support training requirements to ensure rapid crisis response and provide threat protection to the strategically vital and economically critical Panama Canal.

The exercise building partnerships to promote regional and global stability, while testing processes and procedures, SOUTHCOM said in a statement.

The Aug. 11-22 exercise involves 7,000 personnel and is being conducted under the direction of U.S. Southern Command in cooperation with the government of Panama. The exercise is looking at the ground, sea and air response to any request from Panama to help protect the canal and guarantee safe vessel passage.

The multi-national forces protecting the approaches to the canal make up the Multi-National Force South, under a combined joint task force led by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Keith Huber, commander of U.S.Army South.

PANAMAX ’08 is being conducted in the Caribbean and Pacific approaches to the canal with land forces participating from Comalapa Air Base, El Salvador and Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras.

More than 3,000 U.S. military personnel are participating, ans well as seven Navy vessels: USS Tarawa (LHA-1), USS Forrest Sherman (DDG-98), USS Farragut (DDG-99), USS Kaufman (FFG-59), USS Devastator (MCM-6), USS Warrior (MCM-10), USS Chief (MCM-14).

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane (WMEC-903), is participating, as is Air Forces Southern (12th Air Force).

The exercise scenario includes land-based training focusing on command and control, stability operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. At sea, training is examining maritime interdiction operations.

PANAMAX ’08 has a number of objectives to include using intelligence and warning, maritime interdiction operations and a layered defense to counter a threat; promote interoperability; develop and validate commonrules of engagement for all participating forces, exercise command and control for a multinational force for regional naval control and shipping protection, to conduct operations ensuring freedom of naviagation and seaplanes of communication are unrestricted; and to use national and international maritime law enforcement to conduct ultiantional operations.

The PANAMAX exercise has been conducted since 2003, where only three nations participated. The increased participation reflects the importance the international community places on cooperative efforts in promoting regional and therefore, global stability.