Colombia Makes Largest Cocaine Bust in Nation’s History

Colombia Makes Largest Cocaine Bust in Nation’s History

By Myriam Ortega/Diálogo
December 21, 2017

Colombia’s Military and Police Campaign Agamemnon II (Agamenón II) carried out the largest seizure of narcotics in the country’s history. During the unprecedented operation on November 8th, 2017, authorities found 13.4 tons of cocaine hydrochloride in Chigorodó, in the department of Antioquia, thanks to intelligence from the Colombian Army (ENC, in Spanish), and National Police (PNC, in Spanish). The Gulf Clan kept the drugs in three country estates of its area of influence.

“This global war on drugs was declared more than 40 years ago,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said. “So this operation shows the assertiveness with which the war on drugs is waged and the resolve of the Colombian Army and National Police, which worked jointly in this operation.”

On the international market, the drugs are valued at about $400 million. The seizure impacts Otoniel’s revenues—the Gulf Clan’s top ringleader. The organized armed group controls 45 percent of drug exports from Colombia, and carries other illegal business activities.

The operation

“Police intelligence led to the place where the drugs were stored,” ENC Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Durán Benavides, commander of the 3rd Antinarcotics Battalion, told Diálogo. “A coordinated operation was planned and conducted in three districts of the municipalities of Carepa, Chigorodó, and Antioquia.”

The starting point was information from PNC, which confirmed repeated drug deliveries of 100 to 300 kilograms to the three estates. After analyzing the information, authorities planned a raid within the framework of Operation Agamemnon II. The PNC deployed to the locations of the drugs to expedite search and seizures, while ENC troops secured those points.

“We managed to intercept radio communications in which members of the Gulf Clan tried to bait and shoot at troops located at those points,” Lt. Col. Durán said. “That was when the decision was made to extract the drugs with helicopters set up in Carepa ahead of time.”

Drugs were stored in homemade wooden containers under false-bottom floors. “They wanted to avoid raising any suspicions that they had drugs stored there,” Lt. Col. Durán said. “They have support networks [among civilians] in place to be notified of movements or the presence of police forces or people who are not from the region.”

“It was a quick, flexible, and secretive operation with cooperation,” added ENC Colonel Alberto Ulises Romero, commander of the Special Command to Counter Transnational Threats (CECAT, in Spanish). “That was just in one day. The seizure began early in the morning, and by 11, everything had been found.”

Agamemnon II

“As a police operation, Agamemnon was born three years ago with very good results. However, six months ago, the president saw the need to rethink the strategy in light of the exponential growth in Gulf Clan membership, which started to be seen as a national security threat,” Col. Romero explained. “In Urabá, [the Gulf Clan] went from 1,000 to 1,800 members, plus a support network with 1,000 information points.”

To analyze the problem, a Gulf Clan Strategic Review and Innovation Committee was formed, made up of 50 members from ENC, 40 from the PNC, 10 from the Navy, and 10 from the Air Force. Members studied ways to attack the Gulf Clan in five workshops on intelligence, counterintelligence, comprehensive action, legal, and judicial. After two months of work, the Military and Police Campaign Agamemnon II was born.

“[We coordinated] a military campaign to be able to link the Colombian Army, Navy, Air Force, and National Police, and we kept the same name: Agamemnon II,” Col. Romero said. “[It was] an operational design with an intelligence component, led by the National Police.”

ENC joined the Urabá Police with an operational component made up of antinarcotics battalions, special forces, ground combat, a helicopter battalion, CECAT, and the Colombian Navy. Through this operation, some 2,000 personnel joined as military components. The population’s trust in Agamemnon II keeps growing.

“Gavilán, a ringleader who maintained full military control, fell. He managed all the Gulf Clan’s drugs, locations, and hitmen,” Col. Romero concluded. “We took out Gavilán, and the next day, Otoniel came out and said he would surrender. The clan is fragmented. They’re scared.”