On January 18, 2018, the National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish) placed an improvised explosive device on one of the main roads in the municipality of Arauquita, Colombia. A sign at the location attributed the act to the terrorist group. The temporary bilateral ceasefire within the framework of peace negotiations between the Colombian government and ELN ended on January 12, 2018.
Members of the Colombian National Army, the 52nd Marine River Battalion, and the National Police of Colombia immediately launched an operation in the village of La Union, in the department of Arauca, Colombia, resulting in two captures. The men carried handguns, ammunition, and four mobile phones.
“Initially, the area where we found the explosive was cordoned off, and while we were in the process of neutralizing it, we were able to capture two people who belong to ELN’s Camilo Cienfuegos Committee,” Colombian National Army Brigadier General Álvaro Vicente Pérez Durán, commander of the Quirón Task Force, told Diálogo. The task force is a joint, interagency effort under the National Army’s 8th Division. “These [individuals] were ambushed in thick brush on a hill near to where the explosive device was.”
To disable the detonator, service members counted on the support of an explosives demolition group—a non-commissioned officer, five privates, and a canine. After running through security protocols, such as closing off the area to civilians, the group carried out the demolition. “The explosive that’s normally used in these devices is ANFO,” Brig. Gen. Pérez noted.
“ELN is an organization that has been in Colombia for more than 50 years, causing terrorism and attacking the civilian population and citizens,” Colombian National Army Colonel Andrés Perdomo, commander of the 5th Marine Brigade, told Diálogo. Peace talks with the terrorist organization were suspended following attacks on police stations in Colombia and Ecuador in the final week of January 2018. The attacks left seven people dead and more than 70 wounded.
“The combined nature of this effort plays an important role [in these operations], as both the National Police and the Judicial Police were on the scene, immediately doing the work needed to begin processing these two men, who were caught red-handed,” Brig. Gen. Pérez said. “It was an intelligence operation between the Army and the Navy that allowed us first to learn the location of the explosive device, and second, the presence of [individuals] who attempted to carry out what in the department of Arauca is called a ‘pistol plan’ by ELN.’”
The pistol plan is a tactic outlaw groups use to reward their members for each law enforcement officer killed. Victims are often shot in the back. Murders are also committed with explosive devices, and among civilians.
“These terrorists have a particular way of committing crimes. In a pistol plan, a small number of units are involved in the attack. Explosives are placed and snipers are positioned with rapid means of mobility, such as motorcycles, to attack sentries and police patrols in urban centers,” Col. Perdomo said. “Through that form of criminal activity they carry out these kinds of attacks on the public security forces and intimidate the civilian population.”
Through coordinated missions, the Colombian Military Forces captured 15 members of ELN so far in 2018—two were neutralized in one military operation. Service members were also able to demobilize seven members of the same organization. “Add to that the demobilization of two members of the dissident factions and the capture of one of them who had war equipment,” Brig. Gen. Pérez said. “Since the bilateral ceasefire with the ELN ended in Colombia [on January 12, 2018], 30 members of these criminal structures in the department [of Arauca] have been neutralized.”
Included in these results is the capture of alleged ELN ringleader, alias “Mico,” in Arauca. The offender faces charges for carrying out terrorist attacks, burning vehicles, and murdering civilians and members of the public security forces.
“The results have been good in various respects, and it is all thanks to coordination. The Marine Corps supports river patrols and the Army covers and supports security on land, so they can carry out their river duties. And the National Police supports us in all phases of the criminal processing and with urgent actions taken with the public prosecutor’s office,” Brig. Gen. Pérez said. “The armed forces also patrol inner cities. Because the threat here in the department of Arauca is ongoing.”
“This is an [operation] that is conducted with the highest standards of commitment, under a fundamental principle of legitimacy [in the procedures] that our personnel follow,” Col. Perdomo added. “That becomes the guarantee for these military operations against the ELN’s criminal and terrorist activities. These standards allow us to [participate] in a hostile situation in accordance with human rights.”