Colombian Minister of Defense Diego Molano announced the creation of the Norte de Santander Specific Command, on July 24, 2021, at the Brigade 30 headquarters in Cúcuta. Consisting of 14,000 service members from the Army, the command’s objective is to dismantle Front 33, a dissident group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish), and monitor terrorist threats.
“The main objective is to capture alias John Mechas, leader of Front 33,” Molano said at the command’s launch. This military deployment designates this criminal group as a new security priority, said InSight Crime, an organization that analyzes transnational threats in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Mechas ordered the attacks against President Iván Duque and Brigade 30 in Cúcuta in June,” General Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia, National Police general director, said on Twitter. Authorities are offering a $150,000 reward for his capture, the Colombian newspaper El Espectador reported on July 26.
Investigations of attacks
During the announcement of the command’s creation, Gen. Vargas said that 10 members of Front 33 had been captured. They are accused of taking part in the bombing attack that blew up a truck, wounding 36 members of the military brigade in Cúcuta, as well as the attack on the helicopter that was transporting President Duque and his entourage.
Gen. Vargas said that the arrests revealed plans for other terrorist attacks against the public force and the prosecutor’s office in Norte de Santander, including a drone attack on Operation Esparta, in Tibú, in addition to the recruitment of minors in Venezuela to carry out attacks in Colombia.
“Since investigations began, [there is] close collaboration with the FBI. They are helping us with criminalistic and scientific issues, with forensic evidence testing on the explosives found,” Gen. Vargas said. “[Authorities] are carrying out international tracing of the weapons found […], with the help of INTERPOL and the United States.”
“Front 33 has direct connections with the Beltrán Leyva cartel, a Mexican cartel [engaged in] drug trafficking, especially cocaine,” Gen. Vargas said. “The meetings between emissaries of this cartel and Front 33 members take place in Venezuela.”
After inspection procedures at Brigade 30, “a series of recommendations were made to improve security, not only in the brigade, but in all the military garrisons of the country, as a lesson learned,” General Luis Fernando Navarro, commander of the Colombian Military Forces, said. “U.S. Southern Command has been supporting us with capabilities, with technology, to guarantee better security at our facilities, so that these events do not recur,” he added.