The Brazilian Army’s Presence at the Western Edge of the Amazon
By Dialogo September 19, 2011
In the channel of the Javari River, near the border with Peru, approximately 150 kilometers south of Tabatinga (Amazonas), a fleet of three tactical vessels belonging to the Brazilian Army sailed slowly on a routine river patrol. Each boat was crewed by 11 Soldiers armed with Para-FAL 7.62 rifles. At each boat’s prow, the operator of a MAG 7.62 machine gun searched the area ahead, while his colleagues observed the sinuous riverbed. On the opposite shore, a suspicious presence caught the Military personnel’s attention. A small boat without the Brazilian flag was stopped and being loaded. Armed men wearing camouflage clothes and civilians were in the area. The fleet’s outboard motors were disengaged.
A jungle warrior learns from the animals that approach must be silent and stealthy, and if necessary, lethal. The tension increased, and the boats separated. Five hundred meters ahead of the location, two of the boats put in to shore, and in a matter of seconds all the Soldiers disembarked, while the other boat acted as the rearguard, ready to intercept the suspicious vessel in the event that it tried to escape.
The approach was made along two flanks, by land and by water. Their faces painted, the Military personnel reached the location without being noticed. It was a cocaine refining laboratory operated by guerrillas and drug traffickers. As they were heavily armed, the possibility of resistance had to be avoided. The action had to be quick and lethal. It was Brazilian territory, and as happens in nature, those who enter someone else’s territory run the risk of being attacked.
Tabatinga is a city of approximately 40,000 inhabitants across the border from the Colombian city of Leticia. It is the port of entry for much of the cocaine that enters Brazil. The Military presence in the region goes back to 1776, when the Portuguese established St. Francis Xavier of Tabatinga Fort (Forte São Francisco Xavier de Tabatinga), since they understood the strategic importance of the Solimoes River entrance.
In 1932, the fury of the waters destroyed the fortification, which was replaced by another that was again taken by the waters in 1950. Subsequently, the Brazilian Army established a presence with the 1st Special Border Battalion, currently known as the 8th Jungle Infantry Battalion (BIS) – Solimoes Border Command.
The 8th BIS has a roster of one thousand Soldiers and is subordinate to the 16th Jungle Infantry Brigade, located in Tefe. Its area of responsibility is a 1,632-km strip along the border, where four Special Border Squads (PEF) are installed. To the north, near La Pedrera, in Colombia, the 3rd PEF – Vila Bittencourt, is installed at the entrance of the Japura River. The 2nd PEF – Ipiranga is located just below, at the mouth of the Iça River. The 1st PEF – Palmeiras do Javari and the 4th PEF – Estirao do Equador are on the border with Peru, on the banks of the Javari River.
In the Amazon, every mission is real. That is why the 8th Jungle Infantry Battalion conducts surveillance of the border strip, where it has police powers; river patrol, using special speedboats for river operations; and foot patrol in the jungle environment. Its four PEFs carry out the same missions and regularly confront biopiracy, illegal mining, environmental crimes, and the cultivation and international trafficking of drugs, as well as doing intelligence work with the aim of identifying FARC cells still present in the region. The last known confrontation with members of the FARC was in 2002, to the north of the 3rd Special Border Squad, in Vila Bittencourt, along the channel of the Japura River, almost in the area of the 5th BIS, and resulted in deaths among the guerrillas.
War in the jungle requires taking maximum advantage of the region’s network of waterways. For that reason, the troops do not consider using vehicles. All transportation must be done along the rivers or by air, with the assistance of the Brazilian Air Force and the support of the 4th Army Aviation Battalion.
By land, a jungle march has a speed of one kilometer per hour. It is important for a fighter to be capable of covering distances by swimming and of operating motorboats and rowboats. The region’s warm and humid climate facilitates fungal and bacterial infections, and fighters also face the risk of tropical diseases.
Tuberculosis, leishmaniasis, and malaria are endemic in the area. For that reason, the Military personnel must be in very good health. The jungle warrior’s toughness is essential to his full operational capability in this unique theater of operations. The 8th BIS is provided with standard Brazilian Army equipment, but with the necessary adjustments for use in the Amazonian theater of operations.
The weapons used are Para-FAL 7.62 rifles, heavy automatic rifles, and MAG 7.62 and .50 machine guns. These last can be installed in mountings on the boats, supplying greater combat power during a river approach or disembarkation. Carl Gustav anti-tank cannons are also beginning to be incorporated.
A new addition to jungle operations is the use of buffaloes as a means of transportation. These animals are extremely hardy. They like humidity, can easily cross rivers, and are capable of climbing hills while carrying up to 400 kg of ammunition and weapons. They feed on any leaves they find in the forest and remain calm during combat, not getting frightened like other animals, and they are the only means of transportation the troops can use in the jungle environment.
The article on the interception of boats on the banks of the Javari was interesting, but there was no conclusionâ€¦ Was it supposed to be left to the imagination, or did the editor just forget to provide a conclusion? Utter nonsense, a bunch of men who have nothing to do, parading around for the ego of another man.