Armies of Brazil, Colombia, and Peru Conduct Expansive Joint Operation in the Amazon

The three Latin American countries are cooperating to combat drug trafficking and illegal mining in the broadest joint operation ever undertaken.
Patricia Comunello | 18 May 2016

Soldiers from several Colombian forces were in formation as officials from Brazil and Peru performed the ceremony to officially launch Operation Traíra on April 4th-8th. [Photo: Patricia Comunello]

The Armies of Brazil, Colombia, and Peru came together in the broadest joint operation ever undertaken by the three forces in the Amazon border region. The nations are working together to combat drug trafficking and illegal mining, which have been identified by the countries’ Military commands as a source of financing for criminal groups.

In Porto Valter, Brazil's 61st Jungle Infantry Battalion patrolled the Japurá River, which is used by ships to bring goods from Peru and other locations near the border to urban centers. The waterway is one of the main routes to traffic drugs into Brazil, according to the Brazilian Military. [Photo: Patricia Comunello]

Operation Traíra involved the largest deployment ever of Soldiers from the Military Organizations of the Manaus-based Amazon Military Command (CMA) in joint operations with neighboring forces. There were 1,082 Military personnel directly involved from April 4th-8th, but the mobilization and reversal occurred from March 20th-April 20th.

“Integration measures are fundamental, and we need an increasing amount of resources, Troops, and technology to defend the Western Amazon," said Brazilian Army General Guilherme Cals Theophilo Gaspar de Oliveira, who accompanied Operation Traíra before ending his term as CMA's head on April 15th. "[It] can be penetrated by organized crime, as it has a plant cover that makes surveillance very difficult. We know that 80 percent of crimes recorded in Manaus are linked to drugs, and information from the Brazilian Federal Police (PF) indicates that Peru alone provides 300 tons of cocaine paste per year [to Brazil].”

Operations like Traíra involve prior planning and intelligence work by the three Armies, explained the commander of Colombia’s 6th Army Division, Brigadier General Francisco Javier Cruz Ricci. One of the objectives of these operations is to reduce environmental destruction, which is why the Military conducts river surveillance, with integration among Soldiers from the three countries. “The extraction of gold and other minerals finances transnational groups and this affects all three countries," he added.

The cities located in the tri-border region have unique dynamics, and it's key for countries to work together to stop illegal mining and the trafficking of timber and drugs, said Daniel Castillo, the Peruvian consular representative in the Colombian city of Leticia, in Amazonas department. “Operation [Traíra] shows that there are concrete efforts in this regard.”

On the Brazilian side, the CMA deployed three Brigades, three Battalions (one of them an Aviation Battalion), a Special Forces Company, and its Operations Command (COP). Colombia and Peru have established information exchanges and coordination among the units located close to the border on each side.

Safeguarding rivers was one of the focus points, which is why Colombian and Brazilian Troops in motorboats patrolled the Caquetá and Putumayo rivers on the Colombian side and the Japurá and Içá rivers, as they are called, on the Brazilian side, according to Brig. Gen. Cruz.

Cracking down on border crime

Operation Traíra was the second joint operation in four months between the Brazilian and Colombian Armies. In December 2015, the two forces were deployed under Operation São Joaquim (Brazilian name) and Operation Anostomus II (Colombian name). The effort was limited to combating drug trafficking along the countries' border, an area known as Dog Head because of its territorial contours.

However, Traíra's range was much greater, as it covered an area 1,426 kilometers long and 1,150 kilometers wide, advancing into the interior of Brazil between the states of Amazonas and Acre. "We have a border war that requires unity throughout the Amazon, and we are losing it because the money of large international cartels flows into this region, where it is distributed to drug traffickers," said Gen. Theophilo, highlighting the importance of interagency operations in Brazil.

Traíra brought together the PF, Military Police, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Brazilian Intelligence Agency, the National Public Security Force, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Resources, and the National Indian Foundation.

Operation Traíra

In February, the CMA established a key post in Tabatinga, located 1,105 kilometers west of Manaus and is part of the Triple Frontier, along with the Colombian city of Leticia and the Peruvian city of Santa Rosa. Tabatinga and Leticia are connected by Amizade (Friendship) Avenue, while Santa Rosa is just across the border. The deployment of troops assigned to monitor the Solimões River is based in the municipality of Benjamin Constant, which is on the Brazilian side across from Santa Rosa.

“The news [of the operation] spreads, and the trend is for criminals to stop operating and hide, which greatly reduces the likelihood of making arrests,” said Brigadier General Edson Skora Rosty, who commands Brazil's 16th Jungle Infantry Brigade.

Thousands of people living in places like Porto Valter, in the Brazilian state of Acre, and in the Umariaçú indigenous community in Tabatinga, in the state of Amazonas, took advantage of the free services provided by the Brazilian Army Civil-Social Action event, which is aimed at strengthening ties with the border population. [Photo: Patricia Comunello]

The Brazilian Army’s Special Border Platoons (PEFs) in Pari-Cachoeira and Vila Mormes, which are under the jurisdiction of the 2nd Jungle Infantry Brigade, and in Ipiranga, Vila Bittencourt, Estirão do Equador, and Palmeiras do Javari, which are under the 16th Jungle Infantry Brigade, have fulfilled the mission along the border of Amazonas. Meanwhile, the 17th Jungle Infantry Brigade mounted blockades on riverbanks in the municipalities of Marechal Thaumaturgo and Porto Valter, which are further south, in the state of Acre.

Long distances

The COP's Commander, Brigadier General Antônio Manuel de Barros, said Operation Traíra's first obstacle was having Troops travel – mainly by water or air – 31,240 kilometers in 1,000 hours. “It’s almost four times the route between Manaus and London [each way totaling 8,281 kilometers], or as if we traveled eight times from Manaus to São Paulo [each trip is 3,879 kilometers]. Therefore, the logistics must be fully functional. It is silent, difficult work."

A total of 171,600 liters of diesel and gasoline were consumed at more than $142,450, which accounted for about a third of Operation Traíra's total cost of $481,481.

Brazil's 4th Army Aviation Batallion (BAvEx) departed the base in Manaus on April 2nd in a Black Hawk and a Panther helicopter to travel to Cruzeiro do Sul in Acre, where the mission on the border with Peru was coordinated.

“We assisted in Troop logistics, carrying supplies, and moving personnel," explained Major Luiz Haruo Kato, the Black Hawk Commander. "The advantage is that the Black Hawk is an armored warfare aircraft, ideal for attack situations, in case we are targeted."

Arrests and seizures

The three brigades (2nd, 16th and 17th) deployed the PEFs along the border and set up fixed and mobile detachments where Troops advanced on ferry boats, such as in Alto Solimões. The units seized two dredgers used in gold-extraction operations and arrested a Peruvian who was keeping an eye on the machinery in Santo Antonio de lçá on April 6th.

In Tabatinga, a ferry boat was moored in the river port of the 8th Jungle Infantry Battalion (8th BIS) and became the headquarters of the Command Post (CP) to monitor troop movement between March 27th-April 10th.

“The covered area is equivalent in size to the state of São Paulo,” said Brig. Gen. Rosty, who conducted daily meetings, reviewed mission objectives with his staff, and communicated by radio with more distant outposts from the CP. "The vessel, built by Army engineering, made its debut in this type of operation. The ferry boat passed the test.”

In total, forces spent 890 hours traversing rivers.

Anzol base reactivated

Operation Traíra marked the reactivation of the Anzol base that belongs to the 8th BIS, which is headquartered in Tabatinga. The Anzol base is moored on the banks of the Solimões River and can only be accessed by boat.

Anzol Base is one of the most strategic checkpoints for the region near the shared border between Brazil and Colombia. A detachment of 15 Soldiers takes turns every 15 days on a vessel to confiscate and prevent illicit items, mainly drugs, from entering the country via the Solimões River to reach Manaus, the state capital of Amazonas. [Photo: Patricia Comunello]

The ferry was installed by the Federal Police, but it was deactivated for several months due to the lack of financial resources. Fifteen Soldiers from the Brazilian Army take turns every 15 days guarding what is considered one of the most common points exploited by Colombian and Peruvian traffickers who use the Amazon's array of waterways to smuggle narcotics and weapons abroad.

“The biggest chance to seize illegal items is when they are entering our territory but many use streams to escape surveillance," said the head of 8th BIS Operations Section, Captain Leonardo Oliveira Santos. "Our greatest difficulty is the size of the Amazon, which contains 1,632 kilometers of rivers alone. How can we monitor all of the waterways at all times?”

Operation Traíra didn't result in any drug seizures in the Anzol region, but Capt. Santos stated the Troops had already identified attempts to smuggle drugs hidden inside dive cylinders, soda bottles, and even the false bottom of a boat. In 2015, the PF seized 1.044 tons of cocaine throughout the state of Amazonas. It was the third largest volume, behind the states of Mato Grosso do Sul (4.198 tons) and Mato Grosso (3.241 tons).

The operation also included the Army working with the National Public Security Force to establish barriers daily along Amizade Avenue in Tabatinga. “With that operation, we intensified approaches through interagency work, searching vehicles and curbing trafficking," explained Lieutenant Colonel Julio Cesar Belaguarda Nagy de Oliveira, Commander of the 8th BIS. "The fact that the deployment has occurred also inhibits the actions of criminals.

The Army registered 2,638 interceptions, inspections, and searches of persons and vehicles in the area covered by the operation.

Rivers exploitation

Brigadier General Ricardo Augusto Ferreira Costa Neves, the Commander of the 17th Jungle Infantry Brigade, explained how it is challenging to stop narco-traffickers from entering Brazil from Peru. “The traffickers enter using the Japurá River, come to Cruzeiro do Sul, and alter their means of transport. Then they go all over Brazil."

Acre also needs to bolster its Military posts along the border. “In the Amazon, the advantage is that PEFs are directly across from Colombian posts, whereas here there are distances of dozens of kilometers between units,” Brig. Gen. Costa Neves stated.

During Operation Traíra, the 61st BIS, which part of the 17th Jungle Infantry Brigade, changed the type of boat it uses, opting for smaller and lighter craft to pursue criminals. The exchange among the Brazilian, Colombian, and Peruvian Armies also attracted the attention of Bolivia, which shares a border with the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, and Rondônia, where the 17th Jungle Infantry Brigade is based. Bolivia sent Army, Navy, and Air Force officers on two-day deployments to support Operation Traíra, where they manned checkpoints in corridors used heavily by narco-traffickers.

Social action

The Brazilian Army considers it strategic to have the people living in border regions as allies in the fight against transnational crime, Brig. Gen. Barros said. “Residents can provide important information and they have many needs. Therefore, the promotion of Civic-Social Actions (ACISO) was also part of the operation to provide health care and free services."

During Operation Traíra, the Army installed facilities at 11 locations to accommodate the local and indigenous communities from northern Amazonas state to Acre. In Porto Valter, for example, medical and dental clinics and medicine distribution centers were established at an ACISO school, enabling the Military to tend to the heavy flow of patients.

Housewife Maria Alzeneide Freitas Souza traveled four hours by boat so her 7-year-old son, Francisco, who was ill, could see a doctor.

"It's difficult to see a doctor [where I live]," she said.

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