Colombian Armed Forces Capture ELN Ringleader

Colombian Armed Forces Capture ELN Ringleader

By Myriam Ortega/Diálogo
March 22, 2018

Alias “Nilo” and two other guerrilla fighters were captured on Colombia’s Pacific coast.

On February 16, 2018, in a joint exercise, the Colombian National Navy and the National Police of Colombia captured alias “Nilo,” a leader of the guerrilla group National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish), and two other insurgents. The operation, conducted in Bajo Calima, a township in the Special District of Buenaventura, in eastern Colombia, resulted in the seizure of weapons and supplies to process cocaine hydrochloride. It’s the third capture of ELN ringleaders in the region in 2018.

Long criminal record

“Nilo” was a former guerrilla fighter with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish). “His mission [with ELN] was to regain control of the alkaloid transit corridor that runs from the San Juan sector in Chocó to La Delfina in Valle del Cauca,” the Navy reported in a press release. “To complete his mission, he was in the area recruiting former FARC members.”

Authorities also captured alias “Caniqui,” who piloted a vessel from which thefts, extortion, and other crimes were committed, and alias “Albertico,” whose criminal intelligence work in the region consisted of tracking the movements of public security forces to plan attacks. “It seems that the two people he was with were responsible for a terrorist attack on the road to Buenaventura, where they burned a truck and a tractor-trailer during a hold-up that ELN recently committed,” Colombian Marine Corps Colonel Oswaldo Solano, commander of the 2nd Marine Infantry Brigade of the Colombia National Navy, told Diálogo.

“In the area, they [the detainees] were responsible for various [crimes] against the civilian population and against Navy units,” Major Néstor Alonso Gallardo, commander of the 21st Marine Infantry Battalion, told Diálogo. “They put extortion fees on formal and informal merchants, engaged in illegal mining, and worked with coca leaf growers and narcotraffickers who process cocaine hydrochloride.”

Coordinated operation

“In Colombia, the Armed Forces have no judicial police powers, so these kinds of operations are carried out in coordination with the National Police,” Col. Solano said. “In this case, [the capture] was made through the Judicial Police for the Special District of Buenaventura.”

The operation began with a 14-member Navy team securing houses. Then 18 more troops arrived on scene to provide security for the nine police units in charge of the raids. The detainees, seized weapons, and supplies to process cocaine hydrochloride were turned over to competent authorities for prosecution.

The troops arrived on scene at 3:00 a.m. and moved about without being noticed. At 5:00 a.m., they surprised the criminals. “The raids were carried out simultaneously in all three homes. They [the guerrillas] were just getting up, so they weren’t expecting us to be coming into that sector,” Maj. Gallardo said. “We had secured the dwellings with troops from the 21st Battalion, and we were watching them.”

Bajo Calima is located 34 kilometers from Buenaventura, Colombia’s main seaport on the Pacific. It’s a rural area hard to access by road. “They’re unpaved tertiary roads, but you can get in there with a vehicle,” Col. Solano said. “Obviously, there’s plenty of access through the estuaries. Like most of the Colombian Pacific, it’s a wooded jungle area—quite rainy.”

“Because of the problems that Colombia faces, despite this being a local police responsibility, we conduct operations in close coordination with the National Police. That builds trust among the civilian population,” Col. Solano said. “On the operational side, results are much better as the National Police, Army, and Navy work hard to improve operations so that there is no duplication of effort.”

An important part to the success of these operations is training and intelligence. “We already knew who these people were, what weapons they might have, and the activities they were involved in,” Maj. Gallardo concluded. “The training that our troops receive lets us conduct these kinds of operations while always upholding the rights of the civilian population.”