Colombian Military Forces Find Hundreds of Antipersonnel Mines

Colombian Military Forces Find Hundreds of Antipersonnel Mines

By Myriam Ortega/Diálogo
November 22, 2017

A joint operation between Colombia’s National Army, Navy, and National Police uncovered 444 buried mines in the southern department of Putumayo. The mines, made with 84 kilograms of ANFO (ammonium nitrate and fuel oil) explosives, were wrapped in plastic bags to protect them from moisture.

“The discovery, made in early October, is the largest to date by the Navy in the southern part of Colombia. Over the course of 2017, 731 mines and 11,707 kilograms of explosives were found,” Marine Corps Colonel Ricardo Alberto Suárez Rátiva, commander of the Colombian National Navy’s 3rd Marine Battalion, told Diálogo. “These results fall within the framework of the Strategic Consolidation and Stabilization Plan Victoria, implemented through jointly coordinated units.”

Conducting the operation

The joint operation was planned after the Armed Forces obtained intelligence information about the cache in an area of Valle del Guamuez. “Organized armed groups, or groups that commit crimes here [in the department of Putumayo] always use inhospitable and hard-to-reach areas,” Brigadier General Adolfo León Hernández, commander of the Colombian National Army's 27th Jungle Brigade, told Diálogo. “That’s why the Marine Corps’ support is important, because rivers are the main avenues to approach such places.”

Such an operation can take four or five hours. Service members assigned to the mission usually do not set out from their battalion, but from an Intermediate Base of Operations. “And the operational portion is launched with a unit that is already on the ground, typically closer. Depending on the complexity, more specialized units are used—units better trained to get to the site,” Brig. Gen. Hernández said.

Once in the area near the mines, additional measures are taken to reduce risks. “The sector is secured and the activity confirmed. If there are any civilians, they are kept away from those areas to verify the activities,” Col. Suárez added. He described how criminals take advantage of topography to hide explosives. “Some are in caves, some buried, and others in river gorges... in different sectors.”

At this stage, the intervention of the Explosives and Demining Team—a group of mine-detection and explosives experts the Colombian Navy formed in 2004—is essential. “In this operation, specialized personnel and K9 teams were used to deactivate what might have been activated and verify that the mines weren’t armed for detonation,” Col. Suárez said. “In this case, they weren’t armed to hurt anyone, but ready to be used.” The explosive material was transferred to the facilities of the 9th Special Energy and Roadways Battalion for destruction in a secure location far from civilians, the Colombian National Army reported.

Colombia, second most heavily mined country in the world

During Colombia’s internal conflict, guerrilla groups and narcotrafficking organizations used mines and improvised explosive devices (IED) indiscriminately. “Colombia is the second most heavily mined country in the world,” Colombian National Army Colonel Eddy Bladimir Alfonso Moscoso, commander of the National Center for Countering Mines and IED, told Diálogo.

Organized armed groups’ assembly of explosive devices, which leave lasting consequences on victims and affected areas, dates to the 1970s. “Mines are devices that require few resources and can be put together quickly, but they cause quite a lot of damage,” Brig. Gen. Hernández pointed out.

Official numbers show 11,508 people have been victims of antipersonnel mines and munitions in Colombia since 1991, according to the Directorate for Comprehensive Action against Antipersonnel Mines–Descontamina Colombia, an organization of the Administrative Department of the Presidency of the Republic of Colombia. With such numbers, tackling the problem with different methods is necessary

“Colombia is the only country in the world that has a military brigade for humanitarian demining. And it’s the only country in the world where both kinds of demining are done,” Col. Moscoso said. “Military demining is what we do to ensure that our troops can get from point A to point B. And humanitarian demining is what we do to free the nation from the threat of mines.”

Most victims of IED in Colombia were members of the public security forces, Descontamina Colombia reports. “Of all the victims, 61 percent were members of the public security forces and the remaining 39 percent were civilians,” the report states.

“In 2017, we [the Army] have destroyed 6,066 IED throughout the country. From 2010 to today, we counted 122,295 [devices destroyed],” Col. Moscoso said. “Even if mines stopped being planted in Colombia today, we wouldn’t be able to finish the nationwide cleanup until sometime between 2021 and 2025,” he concluded.

A joint operation between Colombia’s National Army, Navy, and National Police uncovered 444 buried mines in the southern department of Putumayo. The mines, made with 84 kilograms of ANFO (ammonium nitrate and fuel oil) explosives, were wrapped in plastic bags to protect them from moisture.

“The discovery, made in early October, is the largest to date by the Navy in the southern part of Colombia. Over the course of 2017, 731 mines and 11,707 kilograms of explosives were found,” Marine Corps Colonel Ricardo Alberto Suárez Rátiva, commander of the Colombian National Navy’s 3rd Marine Battalion, told Diálogo. “These results fall within the framework of the Strategic Consolidation and Stabilization Plan Victoria, implemented through jointly coordinated units.”

Conducting the operation

The joint operation was planned after the Armed Forces obtained intelligence information about the cache in an area of Valle del Guamuez. “Organized armed groups, or groups that commit crimes here [in the department of Putumayo] always use inhospitable and hard-to-reach areas,” Brigadier General Adolfo León Hernández, commander of the Colombian National Army's 27th Jungle Brigade, told Diálogo. “That’s why the Marine Corps’ support is important, because rivers are the main avenues to approach such places.”

Such an operation can take four or five hours. Service members assigned to the mission usually do not set out from their battalion, but from an Intermediate Base of Operations. “And the operational portion is launched with a unit that is already on the ground, typically closer. Depending on the complexity, more specialized units are used—units better trained to get to the site,” Brig. Gen. Hernández said.

Once in the area near the mines, additional measures are taken to reduce risks. “The sector is secured and the activity confirmed. If there are any civilians, they are kept away from those areas to verify the activities,” Col. Suárez added. He described how criminals take advantage of topography to hide explosives. “Some are in caves, some buried, and others in river gorges... in different sectors.”

At this stage, the intervention of the Explosives and Demining Team—a group of mine-detection and explosives experts the Colombian Navy formed in 2004—is essential. “In this operation, specialized personnel and K9 teams were used to deactivate what might have been activated and verify that the mines weren’t armed for detonation,” Col. Suárez said. “In this case, they weren’t armed to hurt anyone, but ready to be used.” The explosive material was transferred to the facilities of the 9th Special Energy and Roadways Battalion for destruction in a secure location far from civilians, the Colombian National Army reported.

Colombia, second most heavily mined country in the world

During Colombia’s internal conflict, guerrilla groups and narcotrafficking organizations used mines and improvised explosive devices (IED) indiscriminately. “Colombia is the second most heavily mined country in the world,” Colombian National Army Colonel Eddy Bladimir Alfonso Moscoso, commander of the National Center for Countering Mines and IED, told Diálogo.

Organized armed groups’ assembly of explosive devices, which leave lasting consequences on victims and affected areas, dates to the 1970s. “Mines are devices that require few resources and can be put together quickly, but they cause quite a lot of damage,” Brig. Gen. Hernández pointed out.

Official numbers show 11,508 people have been victims of antipersonnel mines and munitions in Colombia since 1991, according to the Directorate for Comprehensive Action against Antipersonnel Mines–Descontamina Colombia, an organization of the Administrative Department of the Presidency of the Republic of Colombia. With such numbers, tackling the problem with different methods is necessary

“Colombia is the only country in the world that has a military brigade for humanitarian demining. And it’s the only country in the world where both kinds of demining are done,” Col. Moscoso said. “Military demining is what we do to ensure that our troops can get from point A to point B. And humanitarian demining is what we do to free the nation from the threat of mines.”

Most victims of IED in Colombia were members of the public security forces, Descontamina Colombia reports. “Of all the victims, 61 percent were members of the public security forces and the remaining 39 percent were civilians,” the report states.

“In 2017, we [the Army] have destroyed 6,066 IED throughout the country. From 2010 to today, we counted 122,295 [devices destroyed],” Col. Moscoso said. “Even if mines stopped being planted in Colombia today, we wouldn’t be able to finish the nationwide cleanup until sometime between 2021 and 2025,” he concluded.
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