The border area along the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Paraná, and Santa Catarina served as the staging ground for security operation Ágata Graal, September 24-28, 2018. The initiative sought to curb drug trafficking, smuggling, and other illegal transnational activities along the 3,500-kilometer border with Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina.
Operation Ágata is of a continuous nature and is carried out throughout the year in different border regions. The initiative projects preventive operations along the border via air, land, and river patrols. Service members set up checkpoints at river channels and main roads, conduct airstrip and port surveillance, and search vessels, motor vehicles, people, and aircraft.
The objective is to step up government’s presence and integrate the activities of the Armed Forces with other federal, state, and municipal agencies responsible for the region’s security. Operation Ágata Graal, a name it acquired in the latest 2018 edition, was unprecedented due to the joint effort with the Brazilian Navy (MB, in Portuguese), Army (EB, in Portuguese), and Air Force (FAB, in Portuguese).
Ágata Graal’s headquarters was setup in the city of Cascavel, in Paraná state, in the heart of the border area. There, service members patrolled air, land, and rivers simultaneously. FAB also coordinated aerial support from Aerospace Operations Command in Brasília.
According to MB Admiral Ademir Sobrinho, head of the Armed Forces Joint Chief of Staff, previous operations had simpler formats and were developed quickly and more suddenly. “The joint work was limited to a strategic and operational structure, and when it was time for the tactical part, each force would operate separately,” Adm. Ademir said.
Public security agencies such as the Federal Police, the Federal Highway Police (PRF, in Portuguese), the Brazilian Internal Revenue Service, and the military police from the states of Paraná and Mato Grosso do Sul took part in the interagency operations. A total of 3,000 service members and civilians, about 40 aircraft, and 1,000 different armored vehicles and boats participated.
According to FAB Lieutenant General Ricardo Cesar Mangrich, commander of Ágata Graal, the biggest challenge was to assemble a structure to cover such an extensive and diversified border. “We had Lake Itaipu, at the border with Paraguay, where shores allow for the construction of paths used to board small boats that can carry illegal goods,” Lt. Gen. Mangrich told Diálogo. “We also had the Paraná-Tietê waterway, between Brazil’s southern and southwestern regions, which serve as a gateway into the country, near the state of São Paulo, a highly developed region. Lastly, the dry and complex border of Mato Grosso do Sul, with small roads every 200 meters, made control very difficult.”
Joint task forces
A general staff consisting of 40 officers from the three branches coordinated operations of the joint task forces created to patrol each area. The objective was to advise the commander according to the characteristics of each branch to optimize the use of available resources.
“We used armored vehicles, subunits of EB’s motorized cavalry, FAB aircraft, and other resources,” said Lt. Gen. Mangrich. “The Joint Chief of Staff’s advice was essential to ensure interoperability, and avoid friendly fire from our service members operating side by side on the ground.”
Service members conducted Ágata Graal’s operations at night to ensure the element of surprise, since these were not covert. “The troop got to the point where the opponent could not operate at night, which created instability and an extremely positive result,” Lt. Gen. Mangrich said.
Air assets used heat sensors and satellites for monitoring and reconnaissance activities, and a command and control system to analyze and interpret the images. The information obtained contributed to the commander’s decision making for troops’ engagement.
“During a night flight, a FAB aircraft identified the entry of illegal goods. The satellite provided a visual revealing the number of recipients waiting for the merchandise. Our special forces troops were ready for action at the location. We opted to avoid confrontation and prevent having many fatalities. We chose to throw a stun grenade to disperse the people and stop the illegal activity,” said Lt. Gen. Mangrich.
For the officer, the operation helped confirm the implementation of a successful operational model that can be used when necessary. “We managed to close the border by sea, land, and air during the operation,” said Lt. Gen. Mangrich.
Effective to protect borders, the operation also increased interoperability between forces and coordination with participating agencies. A command and control structure facilitated the coordination of well-organized efforts and efficient results.
According to Adm. Ademir, Ágata Graal allowed service members to uncover river and land routes, and docks criminal organizations used in the area, as well as their modus operandi. “We nearly completely stopped drug and arms trafficking, and cross-border crimes,” Adm. Ademir said.
“After we left the location, the Federal Highway Patrol broke arrest records,” said Lt. Gen. Mangrich. “We identified trucks gathered across the border and a possible route for illegal entry into the country with satellite help. As soon as the operation ended, they tried to enter and PRF was ready for action.”