In October 2016, retired Peruvian Navy Rear Admiral Francisco Calisto Giampietri returned to active duty as a vice admiral to lead the Joint Special Operations and Intelligence Command (CIOEC, in Spanish) to, in his own words, “help stamp out remnants of the Shining Path,” a terrorist organization that still operates in the Apurímac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers Valley (VRAEM, in Spanish). In September 2018, Diálogo visited the Joint Special Force’s headquarters in Chorrillos, Lima, to speak with Vice Adm. Calisto about the operations elite units carry out in the country. The officer retired in December.
Diálogo: Why was the Joint Special Operations an Intelligence Command created?
Peruvian Navy Vice Admiral Francisco Calisto Giampietri, commander of CIOEC: CIOEC was created in response to a requirement that initially focused on VRAEM, because that was the priority at the time, about 10 years ago. That’s how the VRAEM Special Command [CE-VRAEM, in Spanish] was created; it then became necessary to increase operations based on operational intelligence, which in the end led to tactical operations. And CIOEC was created because many of these were non-conventional operations, involving personnel with more operational capacity than regular troops.
Vice Adm. Calisto: Because in Peru our troops are geared toward military service. As such, most service members didn’t have adequate experience for the job required in the very complex VRAEM area. For example, altitude ranges between 600 and 4,800 meters above sea level. So, during an operation, soldiers might start at 600 m and end at 3,200 m. This need to adapt to the terrain goes beyond what a regular soldier is used to. So we found it necessary to use special forces. This special command is restricted to the VRAEM area of operations, which every now and then is declared as an emergency area.
Diálogo: When do you declare a state of emergency?
Vice Adm. Calisto: The Police monitors domestic order. When it’s disrupted in certain specific areas, a state of emergency is declared. Here, some prerogatives are lost. For example, citizens cannot circulate freely without their ID. There are several restrictions, and in emergency areas there might be two types of control for domestic order: first, police control, and second, military control. VRAEM is in an emergency area. This is renewed every 30 or 60 days, depending on the situation, and the domestic order is monitored by the military, which means that the CE-VRAEM commander has control over the Army, Air Force, Navy, and local police. They have a legal responsibility and are authorized by law to keep order, which wouldn’t occur in normal situations, because the Armed Forces don’t have that right, except in VRAEM.
Diálogo: Why isn’t the Shining Path deemed a narcoterrorist group? They currently survive on narcotrafficking, without their old communist ideology, correct?
Vice Adm. Calisto: The ideology is still present on the orthodox side of the organization, but in a very basic way. They use this platform to influence the population with fear and other threats. The term “narcoterrorism” doesn’t exist in our legislation. We have narcotrafficking, and we have terrorism. Both are interrelated, it’s true. But legal changes are not as fast as operational ones. To change laws, they have to go through Congress, and this is a long process. So there is no legal term to define narcoterrorism. If I arrest you on narcoterrorism charges, you can go free tomorrow, because that category doesn’t fall under any law.
Diálogo: Do Peruvian special operators act mainly in VRAEM?
Vice Adm. Calisto: Currently, yes. We are more active in VRAEM. But we also operate in Putumayo, and we can also operate in the north and south, because special operations are conducted everywhere. So CIOEC became an operational command. We had an operation in Putumayo back in July, where, among other things, we neutralized several labs and arrested 51 illegal immigrants who had crossed the Putumayo River into Peru for narcotrafficking. We destroyed four labs there. We are prepared to work all over Peru, and that’s why we became an operational command.
Diálogo: How is the operational command composed?
Vice Adm. Calisto: The Army, Navy, and Air Force comprise it. Based on my requirements, they give me their troops. At present, I tend to a theater of operations that is a permanent client: CE-VRAEM. My requirement for special operations is clearly determined in a directive. So we determine the magnitude of the force we need to use. For example, let’s say I need 36 platoons. I cannot go to the Army and request 36 platoons. The Army can’t deploy 36 platoons to my command and end up without any personnel. What we do is a mixture, depending on the amount of people each institution has. Generally, the Army is the branch with more personnel. We may request some platoons from the Army, then some from the Navy, and some from the Air Force. They leave their areas of responsibility and come under my operational control. They are no longer part of the Army, or the Navy, or the Air Force. They come from there, but I coordinate them. Based on my requirements, I assign them their mission, remove them, move them, and send them back. There are operations in which the Army platoon is supported by the Navy platoon, or both become part of a joint operation—even with the National Police, which deploys agents for my operational control. They have access to privileged intelligence that I don’t, for example, such as tapped phones.
Diálogo: Can you mention any recent combined operation the Peruvian special forces conducted with the United States, especially U.S. Southern Command [SOUTHCOM]?
Vice Adm. Calisto: I won’t specify what we did, but we had this ongoing operation, Operation Tenacious (Operación Tenaz). Before the operation, the United States helped us a lot with intelligence. The information SOUTHCOM provided helped us greatly to carry out the operation. Later, during the operation it was DEA that gave us tactical support to conduct the operations through specialized information. That way, we were able to get direct feedback from DEA during the operation. To my knowledge, we never had a DEA officer in the Peruvian Operational Intelligence Command’s General Staff during an operation. In other words, we had a DEA officer by our side while we operated. Therefore, our requirements were handled by DEA in real time, and they helped the operation at the tactical level.
Diálogo: Is Peru conducting combined training with other countries in the region, apart from the United States?
Vice Adm. Calisto: With Colombia, we have a fluid two-way communication, which helped greatly in the organization of this unit [CIOEC]. Colombia’s CCOES [Special Operations Joint Command] has a lot of experience. We don’t have as many helicopters; we don’t have as many people. The situation in Colombia is different from the situation in Peru. Our issue is much more focused. In Colombia, it was a bit wider. They have Plan Colombia; we don’t have a Plan Peru. We have support on other levels, but our problem is also focused on a certain area. Even so, the experience Colombia gained was replicated here. Colombian officers came; we have an ongoing, mutual support plan with them.
Diálogo: What is your main challenge?
Vice Adm. Calisto: My main challenge is the challenge of Peru: to stamp out this terrorist remnant organization that exists in VRAEM. It’s true that it is symbiotically related to narcotrafficking, and stamping out this scourge is almost impossible. But this doesn’t mean that we won’t keep fighting this. Our main focus is to deactivate the terrorist cell that exists in the area, a process we’ve better focused and tightened little by little. That’s my job. That’s why I’m back. I’ve been assigned to this unit, and I hope to help put an end to this. We conduct real operations, and we must put an end to this as soon as we can.