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Peru Armed Forces Celebrate Military Valor Day by Recalling Operation Chavín de Huantar

Peru Armed Forces Celebrate Military Valor Day by Recalling Operation Chavín de Huantar

By Dialogo
June 03, 2015





Peru recently celebrated what is widely regarded as one of the most successful military operations in the country's history.

Military Victory Day, which takes place every April 22nd, is an homage to the 1997 Armed Forces effort that led to the rescue of 72 captives from the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, which had held them for 126 days in the Japanese ambassador's residence. The heroic mission is a lesson to the entire world, said Army General César Astudillo, because “140 service members of Peru’s Armed Forces put the performance of their duty before any other responsibility.”

Astudillo, a participant in the mission who is now chief of the VRAEM Special Command, recalled his comrades-in-arms who died in the effort. Army Colonel Juan Valer Sandoval and Captain Raúl Jiménez Chávez lost their lives, he said, but set an example in patriotism that can be summed up in one phrase: “We did it for Peru.”

Training for a bold operation


That incident began on December 17, 1996, when 14 MRTA terrorists, led by Néstor Cerpa Cartolini, held hostage hundreds of people attending a birthday party for Emperor Akihito at the embassy.

Armed with AKM rifles, RPG launchers, explosives and dynamite, they took captive diplomats, government and Military officials, and business executives, demanding from the government millions of dollars and the release of imprisoned group members. MRTA had begun its criminal activities in 1984 with targeted killings of police officers, Military service members and civilians, car bomb attacks, and kidnappings. On this occasion they gradually released most of the hostages, but detained 72 for more than four months.

Their rescue required a great amount of Military preparation.

“Re-training was the key to success in the Chavín de Huántar Military operation,” said retired General José Williams Zapata, the officer in charge of the intervention. “What we did was re-train ourselves; we had all received training already. More than anything else, it was done to develop good teamwork. We are not talking about first-time training, but about specialized Troops who must train to take action depending on the scenario.”

The personnel selected for this operation, he recalled, included the best Commandos teamed together in groups. The best shooters were assigned to sharpshooting, the best explosive handlers managed that task, and those best-suited to enter the residence made up another group. “All of them were part of the intervention force.”

Military authorities chose about 140 service members for the mission, including both Officers and NCOs, from the Special Forces Brigade and the Army Commando School, joined by Navy Officers.

“Using these organizations, we put together the intervention force building on groups for command, assault, support, security and sharpshooters,” said Gen. Zapata. The success of the operation relied on secrecy, surprise, and speed.

Commandos get the order to raid home


The Commandos learned they would put their preparation and re-training to use on April 27, 1997, when Gen. Zapata received the order to raid the residence from then-president Alberto Fujimori. The following day, during the operation, Soldiers detonated explosive charges under the residence floors in tunnels that had been constructed over several months by a group of miners, allowing the Military to use the element of surprise for the operation. Operation Chavín de Huántar was named in reference to a Peruvian archaeological site famous for its underground passageways.

“After the explosions, the Commandos appeared and proceeded to place their small explosives in the walls along the perimeter, the explosives went off, opening a gap, and all the Commandos were able to enter the residence,” Gen. Zapata said.

Army Commander Lieutenant Colonel Luis Marca Silva was the first to enter. He recalled his mission clearly: “We had to blow up the main door, enter the second floor, and rescue the hostages who were in the rooms along the front of the building...At the time, I didn’t even think about running into a terrorist and having a shoot-out with him. We had trained for everything in this operation and everything was ready.”

Microphones are hidden in pillows


Intelligence and spy efforts were key reasons for the success of the operation, said retired Army General Leonel Cabrera, who was in charge of one of the assault teams that freed the hostages.

“We inserted microphones into the produce and pillows for the hostages. We put together a psychological profile of the captors and we learned their routines,” said retired Army General Leonel Cabrera. “We knew what time they played soccer in the hall. That was their mistake: That was the time we could enter and surprise them.”

To carry out the mission, the Military rented housing around the residence to observe what was going on, while simultaneously, a replica of the home was built for use in training the service members to execute the rescue in the shortest time possible.

“The operation needed to take place in the space of four minutes, but in real life it took over 40,” Gen. Cabrera said. "On the second floor, a group of terrorists had set up a defense from one of the rooms with explosives and they responded to our military incursion.”

The Military rescued all of the hostages except for one: Carlos Giusti Acuña, a member of the Supreme Court, who died.

Both Col. Juan Valer Sandoval and Capt. Raúl Jiménez Chávez, who were killed during the operation, were promoted posthumously to those ranks, and are regarded as heroes in Peru.






Peru recently celebrated what is widely regarded as one of the most successful military operations in the country's history.

Military Victory Day, which takes place every April 22nd, is an homage to the 1997 Armed Forces effort that led to the rescue of 72 captives from the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, which had held them for 126 days in the Japanese ambassador's residence. The heroic mission is a lesson to the entire world, said Army General César Astudillo, because “140 service members of Peru’s Armed Forces put the performance of their duty before any other responsibility.”

Astudillo, a participant in the mission who is now chief of the VRAEM Special Command, recalled his comrades-in-arms who died in the effort. Army Colonel Juan Valer Sandoval and Captain Raúl Jiménez Chávez lost their lives, he said, but set an example in patriotism that can be summed up in one phrase: “We did it for Peru.”

Training for a bold operation


That incident began on December 17, 1996, when 14 MRTA terrorists, led by Néstor Cerpa Cartolini, held hostage hundreds of people attending a birthday party for Emperor Akihito at the embassy.

Armed with AKM rifles, RPG launchers, explosives and dynamite, they took captive diplomats, government and Military officials, and business executives, demanding from the government millions of dollars and the release of imprisoned group members. MRTA had begun its criminal activities in 1984 with targeted killings of police officers, Military service members and civilians, car bomb attacks, and kidnappings. On this occasion they gradually released most of the hostages, but detained 72 for more than four months.

Their rescue required a great amount of Military preparation.

“Re-training was the key to success in the Chavín de Huántar Military operation,” said retired General José Williams Zapata, the officer in charge of the intervention. “What we did was re-train ourselves; we had all received training already. More than anything else, it was done to develop good teamwork. We are not talking about first-time training, but about specialized Troops who must train to take action depending on the scenario.”

The personnel selected for this operation, he recalled, included the best Commandos teamed together in groups. The best shooters were assigned to sharpshooting, the best explosive handlers managed that task, and those best-suited to enter the residence made up another group. “All of them were part of the intervention force.”

Military authorities chose about 140 service members for the mission, including both Officers and NCOs, from the Special Forces Brigade and the Army Commando School, joined by Navy Officers.

“Using these organizations, we put together the intervention force building on groups for command, assault, support, security and sharpshooters,” said Gen. Zapata. The success of the operation relied on secrecy, surprise, and speed.

Commandos get the order to raid home


The Commandos learned they would put their preparation and re-training to use on April 27, 1997, when Gen. Zapata received the order to raid the residence from then-president Alberto Fujimori. The following day, during the operation, Soldiers detonated explosive charges under the residence floors in tunnels that had been constructed over several months by a group of miners, allowing the Military to use the element of surprise for the operation. Operation Chavín de Huántar was named in reference to a Peruvian archaeological site famous for its underground passageways.

“After the explosions, the Commandos appeared and proceeded to place their small explosives in the walls along the perimeter, the explosives went off, opening a gap, and all the Commandos were able to enter the residence,” Gen. Zapata said.

Army Commander Lieutenant Colonel Luis Marca Silva was the first to enter. He recalled his mission clearly: “We had to blow up the main door, enter the second floor, and rescue the hostages who were in the rooms along the front of the building...At the time, I didn’t even think about running into a terrorist and having a shoot-out with him. We had trained for everything in this operation and everything was ready.”

Microphones are hidden in pillows


Intelligence and spy efforts were key reasons for the success of the operation, said retired Army General Leonel Cabrera, who was in charge of one of the assault teams that freed the hostages.

“We inserted microphones into the produce and pillows for the hostages. We put together a psychological profile of the captors and we learned their routines,” said retired Army General Leonel Cabrera. “We knew what time they played soccer in the hall. That was their mistake: That was the time we could enter and surprise them.”

To carry out the mission, the Military rented housing around the residence to observe what was going on, while simultaneously, a replica of the home was built for use in training the service members to execute the rescue in the shortest time possible.

“The operation needed to take place in the space of four minutes, but in real life it took over 40,” Gen. Cabrera said. "On the second floor, a group of terrorists had set up a defense from one of the rooms with explosives and they responded to our military incursion.”

The Military rescued all of the hostages except for one: Carlos Giusti Acuña, a member of the Supreme Court, who died.

Both Col. Juan Valer Sandoval and Capt. Raúl Jiménez Chávez, who were killed during the operation, were promoted posthumously to those ranks, and are regarded as heroes in Peru.


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