Through Agamenón’s comprehensive phase-two offensive in the northwest of Colombia, the Colombian government is seeking to attack the structure of the Gulf Clan, one of the largest drug-trafficking organizations in the country. The Ministry of Defense has placed a total of 3,200 agents, 1,500 personnel as well as military and civil forces, to conduct this operation with the purpose of “bringing an end to the criminal organization, locating its financial assets, destroying its laboratories, dismantling its criminal routes, including seizing the largest quantity of drugs possible, and discovering the location of its ringleaders and straw men,” General Jorge Hernández Nieto Rojas, the director general of the Colombian National Police, told Diálogo.
The military and police operation, launched on June 1st, is yielding results. Thanks to the efforts of military intelligence, troops from the Colombian Army’s 11th Brigade, 7th Division, in coordination with the National Police, captured Leonardo Fabio Puertas, alias “Leopardo 5” or “Lorica”—the ringleader of a special group belonging to the Gulf Clan — on June 30th in Tierralta, Córdoba department. Leopardo 5 was in charge of providing security for all crystallization labs devoted to processing coca paste in the northern department of Córdoba, the Colombian Army reported in a press release.
The Colombian Army also dealt a heavy blow to the Gulf Clan on June 28th, when it located and dismantled a cocaine hydrochloride production lab in eastern Antioquia with the capacity to produce nearly one ton of narcotics per month. The departments of Antioquia and Chocó are the regions most heavily influenced by this criminal organization due to their broad swaths of jungle and their proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
The operations in which the Colombian Armed Forces and the civil security forces participated are commanded for the first time by a single official from the National Police – General Jorge Luis Vargas, the director of Criminal Investigation. Their mission is to optimize the results of the fight against crime structures devoted to drug trafficking, illegal mining, extortion, and the recruitment of minors.
“The police have a lot of experience with this kind of operation, as seen by the blows that have been dealt to the cartels and to other criminal organizations. If you consider their size and the various and ingenious ways in which the cartels operate, you cannot discount the role that the police have played,” Juan Carlos Chaparro, a security analyst and professor at the National University of Colombia, told Diálogo.
“Today, we have a vast catalog of data that allows us to state that, sooner rather than later, ‘Otoniel,’ ‘Gavilán,’ ‘El Indio,’ and other members of this mafia clan will suffer the same fate as Pablo Escobar, the seven bosses of the Cali Cartel and their right-hand men, and other illegal organizations. This comprehensive operation is designed to attack the Gulf Clan on all fronts,” Gen. Nieto added.
The general indicated that in phase one of Agamenón, conducted from February 2015 to May 2017, the Gulf Clan was reduced by half. It had 4,200 members in 2012 but today totals no more than 2,000. Over that period, the security forces conducted 384 assault operations, capturing 59 ringleaders, and seizing 527 properties and 448 firearms.
“It’s true that the military and the police have captured thousands of that organization’s members, including several dozen mid-level commanders, and that they have seized dozens of tons of cocaine, but it is also true that the criminal organization is still operating,” said Chaparro. “The Gulf Clan [led by Dairo Úsuga, also known as ‘Otoniel’] is a cornered organization, and it is in full decline,” Gen. Nieto added. “Its ringleaders have fled to the hills.”
New resources against organized crime
In addition to the capacities the members of Agamenón II have in intelligence, criminal investigation, and combat, both on land and by air, 10 new Sikorsky U-H60A Black Hawk helicopters that had been acquired by the Colombian government were added to the operation to learn the whereabouts of the criminal gang’s leaders and other members. “These aircraft are merely the physical, technological, and budgetary manifestation of the Colombian government’s willingness to fight organized crime in order to defend the state’s legitimacy and legality in the first instance, and to protect the peace process in the second instance,” said Minister of Defense Luis Carlos Villegas during the official announcement that the U.S. helicopters were entering into service.
Other initiatives to counter crime
“To optimize our offensive against these criminal organizations, the chase and the confrontation need to be ongoing, and there needs to be a greater ongoing collaboration by other governments, insofar as drug trafficking is not exclusively a Colombian problem,” Chaparro underscored. Other elite military and police units deployed in the rest of the country are working together with the members of Agamenón II to counter potential criminal alliances between the Gulf Clan and other organizations.
The police already have four other high-impact operations against organized crime underway: “Aquiles” in southern Cauca department and northeastern Antioquia, “Atenea” in Llanos Orientales, “Esparta” in Norte de Santander, and “Poseidón” in the Pacific region. All of these operations converge in an elite corps with the highest professional abilities.
“Operation Agamenón II will have to ensure the permanent presence of military and police personnel so that the problem doesn’t return. The war on drugs is not exclusively a police mission; a holistic interagency presence by the state is also demanded in this region,” Chaparro indicated.
“We have clear objectives, and we are going to meet them. Our troops will tirelessly continue the mission to ensure the security and tranquility of the residents. Soon the country will see strong results,” Gen. Nieto concluded. Apart from the Gulf Clan, criminal organizations such as Los Pelusos, Los Puntilleros, and the National Liberation Army are also a priority for the Colombian authorities.