The Colombian Air Force (FAC, in Spanish) bombed a campsite belonging to the illegal armed group National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish), killing 10 guerrillas and injuring three. The objective of the March 6, 2018 military offensive was to take down José Evaristo Gelvez Galvis, alias Cachaco, leader of an ELN group of 120 people involved in criminal activity in the Antioquia region. Colombian National Army and Police units participated in the mission, with the support of the Directorate of Criminal Investigation and the Technical Investigative Corps of the Office of the Attorney General of Colombia.
Intelligence operations allowed security forces to establish Cachaco’s presence at a house in the municipality of Cáceres, in Bajo Cauca, Antioquia. After FAC's bombing maneuver, Army Special Forces took control on land. Troops from the Army's Seventh Division participated in coordinating the operation, completed in less than four hours.
“The objective of the operation was 13 guerrillas, and 13 were neutralized,” Army General Alberto José Mejía, general commander of the Colombian Military Forces, said during a press conference. “These exercises are activated at a moment's notice; they demand we have groups on standby at launching bases and for FAC to be ready to apply force at any hour of the night.”
The air maneuver was carried out with A-37 Dragonfly and A-29 Super Tucano combat aircraft. Additionally, UH-60L helicopters were decisive during the air offensive, and a FAC C-208B intelligence airplane coordinated the preliminary information.
“It was a typical mission in terms of air power use, which respected all precepts, concepts, and protocols of International Humanitarian Law,” said General Carlos Eduardo Bueno Vargas, FAC general commander. “We used the air power required to neutralize the target, [with] a process of analysis and verification with additional reconnaissance flights to avoid collateral damage to the civilian population. The precision of the combat planes was excellent.”
“After bombing the campsite, Army Special Forces disembarked at sites intelligence units identified. Using rappelling techniques, they took control of the area,” said General Ricardo Gómez Nieto, commander of the Army. “On land, there was fighting with the guerrillas, who were eventually neutralized. War material was seized at the site. The three wounded insurgents received immediate medical care.”
Peace restored in the area
The joint operation neutralized a criminal group whose actions caused great damage to the civilian population, members of security forces, and the country's strategic infrastructure in the area over the past few years. “This [ELN] group was the reason for the huge displacement of residents from the Cáceres and Taraza municipalities in the past few years, and was behind the frequent attacks against electrical towers, which are part of the grid near Córdoba,” said Minister of Defense Luis Carlos Villegas. “With the impeccable military operation, the border region of Amalfi, Segovia, Cáceres, and Remedios, which ELN harmed, receives great news of peace.”
Bajo Cauca is in the eastern part of Antioquia department, in the foothills of the Central Andes. About 250,000 people live in precarious conditions after years of displacement. Mining and agriculture are the main resources, but the largest part of the economy is informal.
“Cachaco [spent] more than 25 years in this criminal structure,” explained Gen. Gómez Nieto. “He had a huge list of crimes and terror. He killed police officers, kidnapped civilians, extorted businessmen, and other crimes.”
Authorities believed Cachaco was responsible for setting a public bus aflame in February 2018, between the municipalities of San Andrés de Cuerquia and Toledo, Antioquia, as well as a freight truck in the same region. He also killed a soldier in Valdivia, also in Antioquia, when the officer prevented guerrillas from setting an explosive on a bridge.
As of the first week of April 2018, the Colombian Military Forces neutralized 195 ELN members—74 turned themselves in voluntarily, 87 were arrested, and 34 were killed during military operations. Citizen cooperation was decisive to gather intelligence.
“In joining efforts, some work focuses on receiving intelligence tips, specialized teams that handle all the [data] collection methodologies, human sources, and real-time information,” said General Jorge Hernando Nieto Rojas, director of the National Police. “[We have] groups dedicated exclusively to this work that allows for precise results.”
“The operation lets the population of Cáceres and Taraza know about the presence of security forces, achievements and major results not only against ELN, but also against the Gulf Clan,” Gen. Mejía said. “When all forces join together and we have the participation of the Police, we get results like this. I emphasize high-level intelligence from the National Army, compared with and backed by other agencies under a vision of fusion and integration that operations require to obtain authoritative intelligence.”
For internal defense in the post-conflict stage, the Colombian Military Forces count on the strategic plan Victoria Plus. The Colombian Police use a similar plan called Communities in Peace. “The two plans are united, joined. They are connected vessels. This is the first time in history our campaigns are called both military and police. That means joint operations, never one without the other, which gives more effective and decisive results,” Gen. Mejía concluded.
The offensive against ELN is ongoing. A new round of peace talks between the government and the top leadership of the terrorist organization began on April 2nd.