Peruvian, Colombian, and U.S. Special Forces Conduct Southern Spear Exercise

Peruvian, Colombian, and U.S. Special Forces Conduct Southern Spear Exercise

By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo
November 09, 2017

In mid-August 2017, the first war game of its kind, featuring joint planning and combined special operations from the United States, Peru, and Colombia, wrapped up. The war game, Southern Spear, followed a long planning process that grew out of common interests from nations involved to strengthen regional defense and security cooperation. The participation of combined special forces was carried under a memorandum of understanding between U.S. Southern Command’s Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH), the Peruvian Armed Forces’ Special Operations and Intelligence Command (CIOEC, per its Spanish acronym), and Colombia’s Joint Special Operations Command (CCOES, per its Spanish acronym) of the General COmmand of the Military Forces. The Peruvian Ministry of Defense sent a delegation of 13 to participate in the war game in Homestead, Florida, August 13th–19th.

“The goal of this war game is to boost our special operations’ response capacity,” Peruvian Navy Admiral, Francisco Calisto Giampietri, commander of CIOEC, told Diálogo. “[We want to] raise the level of information and intelligence exchange, and develop procedures for mutual cooperation and the use of force in the fight against narcotrafficking and terrorism-related crimes on the Peru-Colombia border.”

The SOCSOUTH-led capacity-building training progressed in three phases: initial discussions, planning, and a virtual war game. In the third phase, the three nations paved the way for elite forces to determine deployment locations of fleets and forces in 2018, before the launch of the live exercise in an area of the Peru-Colombia border in 2019. The full scale of forces to deploy will depend on the information and intelligence collected by participating nations. According to Adm. Calisto, the special forces component will be powerful and able to face any challenge that might arise during the operation that will involve control of a determined area.

“Beyond military action, there is a strong intelligence and cooperation element,” Adm. Calisto said. “This will drive information and intelligence exchange systems that will result in controlled operations, by way of a command and control system enabling combined tactical and operational movements of our patrols.”

Armed Forces with real experience in this type of combat are developing Southern Spear. “Peru and Colombia constantly conduct military operations,” Mario Macon, an independent analyst on Peruvian defense issues and the Peruvian Armed Forces, told Diálogo. “Colombia resolved its problems with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and Peru dealt with the Shining Path and other terrorist groups.”

“This exercise is an example of how the U.S. Department of Defense fosters collaboration in shared defense challenges and facilitates our allies’ efforts to bring security to the entire region and the world,” said U.S. Army Major Cesar Santiago, SOCSOUTH public affairs officer. “Multilateral exercises like this and PANAMAX also allow partner nations to improve security interoperability and institutional knowledge.”

Planning and coordination challenges

The language barrier and systems of communications were the main challenges in the planning and coordination of the Southern Spear 2017 exercise. “The addition of a non-Spanish speaking nation to the equation creates translation and interpretation needs,” Adm. Calisto said. “However, they [SOCSOUTH] have made a big effort to work with Spanish speakers.”

The participation of three different armed forces with potentially incompatible equipment required the establishment of standard procedures for the virtual exercise—at the operational and tactical level—before the launch of the live exercise. Once those were established, SOCSOUTH worked on communications systems compatibility to ensure that military operations could be directed during the exercise for Peruvian and Colombian elite units to successfully carry out maneuvers.

“The use of arms is another standardized area in these exercises. In Peru, the Armed Forces have different weaponry,” Macon said. “The Peruvian Navy is fully NATO-compliant. But the [Peruvian] Air Force has a mixture of systems. Because of this, the special forces are in an in-between situation.”

The main concern

Established in 2010, CIOEC uses elite Peruvian Army, Navy, and Air Force troops in joint operations. The work of the special command includes training and preparing military personnel to conduct operations in the Apurímac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers Valley (VRAEM, per its Spanish acronym). “Although CIOEC’s current main concern is the VRAEM, it must still maintain a presence in other parts of the Peruvian territory where dangers to national security or the population might arise.”

CIOEC supports the operations of the VRAEM Special Operations Command, the Peruvian Armed Forces Joint Command, and the National Police’s Counterterrorism Directorate and Antinarcotics Directorate. The goal of these institutions is to bolster missions against the remaining terrorists in the country and criminal organizations devoted to narcotrafficking.

“These joint operations in the VRAEM helped lead to the capture and removal of main criminal ringleaders,” Adm. Calisto noted. “We conducted various operations that allowed us to capture several very heavyweight leaders of terrorist organizations, weakening the ability of this type of criminal gang in the VRAEM to operate.”

An alliance to extend operational reach

“SOCSOUTH is not just supporting CIOEC through Southern Spear. Peru has a longstanding relationship with U.S. Southern Command,” Adm. Calisto said. “Today these exchanges with U.S. Southern Command are increasing.”

“In addition, through exercises like these, Peru gains international prestige, as do its special operations commands,” Macon added. “The possibility of having more exercises is there, with more capacity building in this kind of training—a more modern approach, and a new philosophical outlook.”

“Narcotrafficking and terrorism must be fought with the greatest force possible. Our alliance with a nation such as the United States, through SOCSOUTH, enables us to extend the reach of our operations,” Adm. Calisto added. “We mutually support each other and combine capacities to bolster our efforts in the fight against cross-border crimes.”

“We deeply value the investments our partners have made to strengthen hemispheric cooperation,” Maj. Santiago concluded. “Through capacity building exercises and a greater exchange of information, we enable our partners to pressure these threat networks on multiple fronts. Southern Spear is just one more example of this mobilization effort.”