Colombia, Guatemala Block Air Narcotrafficking Routes

Colombia, Guatemala Block Air Narcotrafficking Routes

By Myriam Ortega/Diálogo
June 18, 2019

Combined work as part of air interdiction exercise COLGUA II

The Colombian Air Force (FAC, in Spanish) and the Guatemalan Air Force (FAG, in Spanish) conducted the binational air interdiction exercise COLGUA II in the Caribbean. The exercise, which combines aerial capabilities of both forces, neutralized three aircraft, captured two traffickers, and destroyed a clandestine airstrip.

For the 12-day operation, FAC deployed a component to conduct planning, intelligence, and operations with two reconnaissance platforms based in Guatemala. Meanwhile, the Guatemalan Armed Forces took part in the operation with three aircraft and one FAG helicopter, as well as elements of the Army and Special Forces, FAC said in a press release.

“COLGUA II is an operation we conduct with Guatemala based on our agreements covering interdiction and the fight against narcotrafficking,” FAC Brigadier General Pablo Enrique García Valencia, commander of Air Operations Command, told Diálogo. “The goal is to improve our ability to coordinate with them and become more efficient in air interdiction against narcotrafficking, in Central America in this case.”

The exercise’s second edition — the first one was in 2018 — focused on disrupting transnational organized crime and updating the air defense systems of both forces for better control of both countries’ airspace, based on current operational procedures. FAG Colonel Oscar Estuardo Recinos Morales, commander of Air Defense Unit, told Diálogo the exercise also serves to “strengthen relations, exchange experiences, and establish common procedures for technical reconnaissance, surveillance, monitoring, and interception of aircraft that uses both nations’ airspace illegally.”

Three aircraft

During the first days of the operation, FAC identified an airstrip in the Caribbean coast of Guatemala. Then, using Colombian intelligence, Guatemalan Army units deployed in the area to disable the clandestine airstrip. During that period, FAC also detected a light aircraft coming from Venezuela, which entered Guatemalan airspace illegally.

The aircraft, a Cessna 210, landed on a clandestine airstrip, and traffickers moved the drugs in a car, Brig. Gen. García said. “Narcotraffickers set the aircraft on fire and fled in a vehicle. We kept track of the vehicle constantly,” the officer said. “So that’s the information we can provide with our [air] platforms, and with the [Guatemalan] troops on land, we arrive and try to make arrests. There was combat and gunfire exchanged; they captured two individuals.”

FAC and FAG tracking aircraft detected a second plane in Guatemalan airspace. This one landed on a road near a farm, Col. Recinos said. “We noticed that criminals received and unloaded an illicit cargo and then escaped toward another community,” he said.

A brigade of the Guatemalan Marine Corps arrived in the area to secure the aircraft, while others deployed in search of the criminals, who were heading to the Mexican border with the drugs. The criminals evaded the authorities.

The third aircraft was intercepted with the support of the Mexican Air Force, as it was bound for Mexico, Brig. Gen. García said. Guatemalan service members were able to secure the aircraft near the border. “Mexico sent its platforms, and we sent what we had in Guatemala; these went to the north of the country. Some helicopters flew from Mexico to dissuade the traffickers; finally, [the aircraft] landed in Guatemala,” the officer said.

Positive balance

Besides the three aircraft neutralized during the exercise, authorities were able to deter eight light aircraft and take images of more than 25 clandestine airstrips in Guatemala. During the operation, the air forces conducted 19 missions, for a total of 50 flight hours.

“This is a very positive outcome, and above all it helps us improve these coordination channels so that these operations can be very efficient,” Brig. Gen. García concluded. “We expect to continue with exercise COLGUA and increase its frequency to meet the urgent need to improve the results of the fight against transnational narcotrafficking.”