Colombian Army Finds ELN Arsenal

The Urabá region, with its dense vegetation, continues to serve as a refuge for armed criminal groups.
Marian Romero/Diálogo | 17 October 2017

Capacity Building

On September 1st, 2014, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos activated Joint Task Force Titán in the municipality of Quibdó, capital of the department of Chocó. (Photo: AFP)

Joint Task Force (JTF) Titán, of the Colombian Army's Seventh Division, located a significant amount of war material belonging to the National Liberation Army (ELN, per its Spanish acronym) guerrilla group. The material was found in a region which still shows signs of instability due to the presence of criminal groups that operate outside the law.

“This operation impacts ELN's armed criminal organizations,” said Colombian Army Brigadier General Mauricio Moreno Rodríguez, the commander of JTF Titán. “An achievement like this prevents any type of terrorist action which could put the lives and stability of the region's inhabitants in danger.”

The operation was carried out on August 9th in Urabá, a rural area in the municipality of Murindó, in the department of Antioquia, where JTF Titán discovered a clandestine hideout with four 7.62 caliber machine guns, 29 rifles of various calibers, 25 handguns, two sub-machine guns, a mortar launcher, two 37-millimeter grenade launchers, and a shotgun. Additionally, parts and materials used in the repair of the seized arms were found.

JTF Titán is in charge of boosting security and represents the Army's permanent presence in the region. “Military operations in the departments of Chocó and Antioquia, in Urabá, are ongoing, because of the continued criminal activity of groups such as ELN, the Gulf Clan, as well as other Organized Armed Groups (OAG),” Brig. Gen. Moreno said. “Our current objective is to locate more illegal caches and to capture whatever criminal organization owns that material.”

The challenges of Urabá

Urabá is a region located between the Colombian departments of Antioquia, Chocó, Córdoba, and the Darién Gap, on the Panamanian border. Although its place on the political map is unsettled, the region is recognized for its geographically strategic position. Bordered by the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and with its lush foliage, Urabá has become the preferred region for OAG criminal activity and exportation of alkaloids.

“The joint efforts among the armed forces, the regional authorities, and governmental entities has proven the most effective way to confront the department's challenges,” stated Alexander Mosquera, the secretary of Chocó’s internal affairs. “This way justice can be guaranteed, as well as the appropriate handling of matters involving the Public Defender's Office, the State Attorney General's office, the Office of the Ombudsman, the District Attorney's office, even the church diocese.

JTF Titán was founded as a unit of the General Command of the Colombian Military Forces in order to more effectively fight the region's security threats. It comprises the Army, Navy, Air Force and National Police, as well as state entities, in order to achieve a comprehensive focus, as opposed to an approach using isolated forces.

The discovery of the illegal ELN arms caches is a blow to the ELN organization. (Photo: Colombian Army’s Joint Task Force Titán)

“In Chocó we encountered difficulties ranging from infrastructure to the permanent system of threats from the ELN and Gulf Clan terrorist groups,” Brig. Gen. Moreno said. “Illegal mining, narcotrafficking, extortion, kidnapping, and the recruitment of boys, girls, and adolescents are some of the main factors contributing to instability in the region.”

In a region as unstable as Urabá, it is essential to have a well-structured support system that is void of gaps in order to carry out actions such as the seizure of the recently discovered weaponry, the discovery of cocaine laboratories, and the capture of criminals that do so much harm to our community,” Mosquera added.

The phenomena of narcotrafficking and illegal mining are constantly morphing, since OAG are seeking ways to continue breaking the law and escape justice. Because of that, it is necessary to join together all the powers of government in order to direct them towards one common end.

With the arsenal found by JTF Titán in 2017, the count stands at 28 captured criminals and the destruction of 85 explosive devices, 203 kilograms of explosives, and 51 laboratories. Additionally impounded were 40 illegal caches, 47 kg of cocaine hydrochloride, 3,667 kg of solid ingredients, and 4,524 gallons of liquid ingredients used in the processing of cocaine paste.

Governability

Guaranteeing the security of Urabá is not an easy task, mainly because some cities suffer a significantly reduced institutional presence due to the armed conflict. In those places the lack of proper judicial processing of criminals gives rise to impunity and continuity of crime.

One of the main objectives of JTF Titán is the strengthening of institutions in the region in order to restore governability to the territory as a whole. “Our mission seeks to achieve three goals: further joint and inter-agency operations that strengthen the ability of mayors and governors to govern, make our results irreversible, and create an institutional plan for the territory,” Gen. Moreno said.

For his part, Mosquera stated that the Army has recently increased its presence, especially after having recovered territories that had been controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia prior to the Peace Accords. “The military presence has been very positive, resulting in the dismantling of many criminal organizations that insist on remaining in the region,” he stated. “Through these measures the presence of the Army in Urabá constitutes not just the coercive component of the government, but also personifies the expansion of institutional coverage.”

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