The Ecuadorean Army’s Andes Brigade fights organized crime

The Andes Brigade is bolstering military efforts to fight organized crime in the border region, and will also improve cooperation with Colombian Armed Forces
Julieta Pelcastre | 18 December 2013

Ecuadorian Army soldiers in the new Andes Brigade are improving security along the country’s northern border by patrolling frequently and confronting organized crime operatives.

A group of 1,500 troops from the 31st Infantry Andes Brigade, based in Tulcán, the capital of Carchi province, is reinforcing Army security operations to seize drugs, weapons, fuel and explosives from criminal organizations operating along Ecuador’s northern border.

New threats from transnational organized crime

The Army patrols are concentrated in the provinces of Carchi, Esmeraldas, Imbabura and Sucumbíos.

Those provinces “are highly sensitive locations facing new threats from transnational organized crime”, said Carlos Larrea Dávila, the deputy minister of national defense.

The Andes Brigade is comprised of soldiers who had been assigned to the 13th Infantry Battalion of Esmeraldas, the 39th Infantry Battalion of Tulcán, and the 36th Motorized Calvary Group of Ibarra. The Andes Brigade is under the command of Amazonas Task Force No. 4. The reorganization was detailed in Resolution 376, dated Oct. 4, 2013.

The Andes Brigade commanded by Col. Mauricio Silva, joins thousands of other Army soldiers who are providing security in the border region. In all, more than 8,000 Army troops provide security in the border region, according to the Ministry of National Defense.

Figthing organized crime and improving military cooperation

The Andes Brigade is bolstering military efforts to fight organized crime in the border region, and will also improve cooperation with Colombian Armed Forces, said Gen. Jorge Peña Cobeña, the commanding officer of the Ecuadorian Army during the new brigade inauguration ceremony on Nov 5.

“This brigade will enable increased compliance of military operations in the fight against drug trafficking and illegal groups, as well as the coordination of military tasks between Ecuador and Colombia,” the general said.

Soldiers in the Andes Brigade plan and execute short and long-range patrols. The troops also gather intelligence and launch operations against organized crime groups.

All of the soldiers assigned to the region are expected to perform their tasks according to the highest levels of professionalism, authorities said. Army soldiers in the region and throughout the country have received extensive training in protecting human rights while carrying out their missions.

Army reorganization

The creation of the Andes Brigade is part of a broader reorganization of the Ecuadorean Army which began in August 2013. The restructuring is scheduled to be completed by January 2014.

Authorities are training complete, flexible, fully-equipped military units. The units are being trained to carry out a range of defense missions, from fighting organized crime and providing security along border regions to responding to natural disasters, authorities said.

More than a million inhabitants along the northern border - known as Zone 1 - will benefit from the presence of the Armed Forces.

The Andes Brigade and other troops are fighting drug trafficking and other organized crime activities.

Drug traffickers transport about 120,000 kilograms of cocaine from Colombia and Peru through Ecuador every year, according to the American Police Community (AMERIPOL) report “Drug Trafficking - A Police Perspective.” Organized crime operatives transport the drugs by land, air, and sea through Ecuador to Mexico, the United States, and Europe.

The reorganization of Army units will allow the Armed Forces to operate more strategically and improve security in the northern border region, according to Bertha García Gallegos, a security analyst at the Catholic University of Ecuador.

To fight organized crime, the Ecuadorean government is “strengthening joint operations between the three branches of the Armed Forces and the National Police; clearly identifying possible threats, and increasing surveillance on the northern border,” García Gallegos said.

Authorities in Ecuador “are thinking of new ways to patrol and train surveillance units in the border area with specialized equipment to prevent an increase in insecurity along the border,” the security analyst said.

The drug trafficking threat

The Sinaloa Cartel, which is led by fugitive kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, works with Ecuadorian gangs to transport drugs through the country and north of the border. Organized crime activity threatens public safety, García Gallegos said.

“Drug trafficking activities pose a threat to Ecuador. The deterioration of security on the northern border is linked to the Colombian armed conflict and the organizations engaged in illegal activities,” said Bertha García Gallegos, a security analyst at the Catholic University of Ecuador. “The biggest challenge facing Ecuador in terms of defense and security is drug trafficking, not only in the northern region, but also in the central areas of the country. It is a complex situation that transforms according to criminal behavior. Authorities need to define the roles of each security force to achieve more success in the fight against transnational crime.”

Ecuador is not a major producer of drugs, but the country is used as a storage location and transportation route by the Sinaloa Cartel, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and organized crime groups from Nigeria, China, and Russia, according to the World Drug Report 2013, by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Ecuador is one of 10 countries worldwide which have had the most success in recent years in fighting drug trafficking, according to the UNODC report. The country has made inroads against drug trafficking and drug processing operations, the report states.

Large drug seizures

Ecuador’s military and law enforcement forces have made several important drug seizures in recent months:

• In early December 2013, National Police agents from the Anti-Narcotics Directorate seized more than half a ton of cocaine in two separate operations in the province of Esmeraldas, on the northern coast of Ecuador. The agents arrested eight suspects.

• In November 2013, security forces seized more than 3.5 tons of drugs in more than 100 security operations. Security forces seized the drugs during a span of seven days in mid-November. Security forces captured 83 suspected drug trafficking suspects. Among them were 75 Ecuadoreans, six Colombians, and two Mexican nationals. Security forces also detained 14 minors who allegedly collaborated with the alleged drug traffickers.

• Also in November 2013, the Armed Forces confiscated 692 illegal firearms during security operation throughout the country. Soldiers seized submachine guns, rifles, semiautomatic handguns, and revolvers. As of early December 2013, soldiers have seized 19,000 illegal weapons cartridges. That is more than double the 8,000 illegal weapons cartridges that soldiers seized in all of 2012.

• In October 2013, anti-narcotics agents from Ecuador’s National Police seized more than three tons of drugs in security operations in the provinces of La Libertad and Guayaquil, as part of Operation Hunter. The drugs were linked to the organized crime groups Los Urabeños Los Rastrojos, authorities said. National Police agents also captured 15 suspects.

• In June 2013, National Police anti-narcotics agents captured seven alleged Sinaloa Cartel operatoratives, including Telmo Remigio Castro Donoso, who is known as “Capi.” Authorities believe Capi was allied with El Chapo. The arrests occurred during Operation Galaxy.

Military cooperation bolsters the fight against transnational crime

Ecuadorian security forces in recent months have strengthened their cooperative ties with other South American countries in the battle against transnational crime.

On Nov. 25, 2013, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos held a binational meeting in the Colombian city of Ipiales.

Correa, Santos, the foreign ministers of both countries, and several Ecuadorean and Colombian Cabinet ministers met for four hours to discuss progress on joint security agreements and other accords. Following the meeting, the two president signed eight agreements regarding issues such as security, transportation, education, tourism and the oil industry.

The two presidents also discussed the ongoing peace talks between Colombia and the FARC, which are being held in Havana.

Authorities in Ecuador “are thinking of new ways to patrol and train surveillance units in the border area with specialized equipment to prevent an increase in insecurity along the border.” .

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