Argentine Armed Forces and National Gendarmerie fight drug trafficking

The security forces will patrol in isolated regions where drug traffickers are known to operate.
Julieta Pelcastre | 6 November 2013

During the first nine months of 2013, Argentine security forces seized 52 tons of marijuana along the country’s northern border, authorities said.

That amount surpasses the 50 tons of marijuana security forces confiscated in the region in all of 2012.

The seizures are part of a major security initiative launched in July 2011. The security initiative is called Operation Northern Shield. The effort is part of Plan Fortin II, a broad government strategy to protect Argentina’s borders.

The Argentine Army, National Gendarmerie units and the Coast Guard are joining forces to fight drug trafficking and other criminal enterprises along the country’s northern border, which is shared with Paraguay, Bolivia, and Chile.

The initiative was announced by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in July 2011. At the time, at least 7,000 members of Argentina’s security forces are participating in Operation Northern Shield. The effort also includes at least 6,000 officers from the National Gendarmerie and the Coast Guard and 800 Army Special Forces soldiers.

In September, the Argentine Army announced the deployment of another 4,500 soldiers to strengthen security in the northeastern and northwestern borders. These soldiers will operate in Jujuy, Salta, Formosa, Corrientes and Misiones, authorities said.

A dangerous region

Transnational criminal organizations traffic drugs, mostly cocaine, through Argentina’s northern border, said Carlos Mendoza Mora, director of Strategic Projects Consulting, a private security company. Most of the drug smuggling takes place through the border Argentina shares with Bolivia, Mendoza Mora said. Organized crime groups process coca leaves, which comprise the raw material for cocaine, in Bolivia, the security analyst said.

“Criminal organizations in control of drug distribution are starting to move to Argentina and their scope of criminal activities is expanding to include human trafficking, extortion and rent-like charges,” Mendoza Mora said. “The Argentine government is taking the necessary actions before these challenges.”

In the border region, security squads that will include 12 Argentine Army soldiers teaming up with three police officers will begin patrolling in December 2013, according to La Nación.

The security squads will patrol in isolated regions where drug traffickers are known to operate, authorities said. Drug traffickers often smuggle drugs in small vehicles, or carry drugs in backpacks.

Improved security

The police officers who will patrol with soldiers will have the authority to arrest suspected drug traffickers, seize their drugs, and conduct criminal investigations, Mendoza Mora said. Under the country’s National Defense Law, the Argentinian Armed Forces are prohibited from conducting certain security tasks, such as conducting criminal investigations. “This law allows us to watch and control our borderlines, including air space, territorial, fluvial and maritime ones. The Army will not perform internal security tasks,” said Minister of Defense Agustín Rossi.

During a July 2013 dinner to honor the Armed Forces, President President Cristina Kirchner said that “it does not make any sense to have troops in the middle of urban centers and not in our borderlines, where they can have a more important role in cooperation with other security forces.”

Narco-flights

Since July 2011, Argentine Air Force radar has detected more than 800 illegal, unregistered flights, authorities said. Of those, 242 flights were related to drug trafficking, the National Gendarmerie told La Nación.

Argentinian gangs are collaborating with criminal groups from Bolivia, Paraguay, and Brazil to traffic drugs to different parts of the country and through the northern border, Mendoza Mora said.

Much of the cocaine which is smuggled into Argentina is transported to the Buenos Aires region, where local gangs sell the drug, the security analyst said.

Argentinian organized crime groups can make big profits by smuggling cocaine to other countries, Mendoza Mora explained.

For example, about 90 percent of the cocaine that drug traffickers smuggle into Argentina enters through the Salta port of entry, Mendoza Mora said. In Salta, a kilo of cocaine is worth US$4,500, He said. However, the same amount of the drug would be worth US$7,500 in Rosario, and could be sold for more than US$26,000 in Europe, the security analyst explained.

Diverse tactics

When they begin patrolling together, the Army and the National Gendarmerie should use a variety of tactics in the battle against transnational drug trafficking and other criminal enterprises, Mendoza Mora said. Security forces should also gather intelligence on organized crime groups, he explained.

“To avoid an increase in violence, the federal government must improve intelligence and information gathering processes, launch clever attacks and, in any case, strengthen social cohesion to prevent an increase in drug demand,” the security analyst said.

Organized crime groups are likely to alter their activities in response to the increased security along Argentina’s northern border, Mendoza Mora said.

Security forces should be prepared to counter the drug traffickers by adjusting their tactics as well, he added.

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