As part of their defense cooperation efforts, the Peruvian Air Force (FAP, in Spanish) and Air Forces Southern (AFSOUTH), U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM)’s Air Force component, trained Peruvian service members in the legal field that covers military interventions in the Apurímac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers Valley (VRAEM, in Spanish). The V Operational Law Seminar, conducted February 4-7 at Las Palmas Military Air Base in Lima, Peru, helped strengthen efforts to counter terrorists and narcotrafficking groups. “The goal is to provide operational law education to FAP pilots, special forces, and intelligence and air and law defense personnel, and learn the rules of engagement in unconventional warfare scenarios,” Colonel Fernando Kahn, the FAP General Secretariat’s legal advisor, told Diálogo. “Unlike other seminars, this one involved young officers: lieutenants, captains, and majors who are headed to the VRAEM or are already there.”
For three days, students got to know the exercises the U.S. military conducts under operational law. The officers also analyzed FAP’s actions in VRAEM conflicts in the last 25 years.
AFSOUTH’s legal advisors shared their knowledge, research, and experiences regarding the application of operational law, close air support, and what to do when the commander doesn’t want to listen to their lawyer. “When the commander doesn’t want to listen to the legal advisor and acts [independently], it might become an illegal situation,” Peruvian Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Ángel Daniel Bravo Bonifaz, an officer with the FAP’s Special Forces Group’s General Staff Operations, told Diálogo.
FAP has had a legal operational advisor in the VRAEM’s air component for more than four years. “He’s the one who advises the commander one way or another. We then work to ensure that he is accepted, understood, and listened to,” Col. Kahn said. “SOUTHCOM’s support for this seminar is a sign of confidence in FAP to train our personnel.”
“Another issue of interest among attendees was the training of U.S. commanders in law schools to learn and use the same terminology than legal operational advisors, and discipline in U.S. military tasks,” said Col. Kahn. “The United States has a reputable military court system, with serious sanctions when norms are violated.”
Peruvian military operations in the VRAEM must have a legal advisor before and after military action. The legal advisor must apply the rules of engagement that determine how and against whom force will be used during a military intervention, as well as the armed forces’ limits in undertaking and pursuing operations against hostile groups. The advisor must also make an intelligence report that contributes to the legal backing and success of the armed forces’ actions in the area.
“Under this concept, we need the norm of rules of engagement Section 13 to become [official], because it will be further protection and a means for legal and sound procedure for all the elements working in the VRAEM’s conflict area,” said Col. Kahn. “The rules of engagement should be established within rules of operation. Not all missions are the same,” said Lt. Col. Bravo.
Strategies and tactics
The VRAEM is Peru’s top region for coca crops and the area of operations of the remnants of the terrorist group Shining Path. Crops are processed to manufacture cocaine, which is transported to Mexico, the United States, Africa, and Europe.
The VRAEM Special Command (CE-VRAEM, in Spanish) conducts counter terrorist operations and joint efforts with the Peruvian National Police in the area, under the concept of operational law. FAP takes part as an air component, and FAP’s Special Operations Group deploys patrols to execute the CE-VRAEM commander’s plans. The mission of the military interventions is to preserve the lives of the population and service members, crush the hostile group’s capacity, defend the state, and protect public and private property.
Lt. Col. Bravo said that enemy strategies and tactics are those of guerilla warfare: hit-and-run, ambushes, raids, seizing arms for their own use, and using antipersonnel mines and explosive artifacts. “To confront the enemy, we also use special warfare [techniques], and the main thing we need to consider is the element of surprise. In a way, the rules of engagement should be for forces to maintain that element of surprise to get the required military advantage.”
As civilians are present during air-ground exercises in the VRAEM, it’s essential for the commander to remember their operational law training, that they have an operational lawyer, and that their staff has operational law knowledge. This gives the commander absolute confidence to decide any course of action about the mission.
“From a legal viewpoint, the operational lawyer is the commander’s right-hand man,” said Lt. Col. Bravo. “Due to the importance of the legal advisor’s timely and efficient advice to the commander, FAP will seek to organize an operational law conference before the end of 2019, not only for elements of the Air Force, but also the Navy, the Army, and the National Police,” said Col. Kahn.