Operation Chavín de Huántar has been considered one of the most successful military rescue operations in modern times. The government of Peru carried out the operation in April 1997, to rescue 72 hostages held by remnants of the terrorist group Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA, in Spanish), during a crisis at the Japanese ambassador’s residence in the Andean nation. The success of the operation was due to the intervention of the Peruvian Army’s special forces.
To learn about the evolution of the Peruvian forces and analyze other relevant issues, Diálogo spoke with Peruvian Army Brigadier General Hugo Antonio Molina Carazas, commander of the 1st Special Forces Brigade.
Diálogo: Were there any changes in the Peruvian special forces training after Operation Chavín de Huántar?
Peruvian Army Brigadier General Hugo Antonio Molina Carazas, commander of the 1st Special Forces Brigade: For members of the Peruvian Army’s special forces, military operation Chavín de Huántar is one of the most important historical events in which our Armed Forces took part, because it was a planned initiative with the participation of the Navy and its special forces. Our success was due to the joint planning that was already part of our special forces’ capabilities. This was because our special forces were always under constant training throughout the years due to the situation we had [in the country] during the 1990s and long before, in the 1980s. We confronted a threat that harmed our nation greatly—namely, terrorism, with the Shining Path terrorist organization and the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. Because of this, our forces trained constantly and gained the capabilities that were displayed in the Chavín de Huántar military operation, a very difficult operation. We all know that rescuing hostages isn’t easy, so I am proud, as are my colleagues who participated in that operation.
Diálogo: Chavín de Huántar was a successful operation. But terrorism in Peru didn’t come to an end. It’s true that MRTA disappeared, but the Shining Path’s terrorism continued throughout the years.
Brig. Gen. Molina: The main leaders were captured, but there are still remnants in rural areas, which pose a threat. It’s true that it’s a weakened organization, and I think that they no longer have a defined ideology, compared to what the Shining Path was in the 1980s and 1990s. People still think that there are areas in the VRAEM [Apurímac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers Valley in Spanish] where they remain, taking advantage of weather conditions and the wild region. That’s certainly a threat to the area, to the geographical area where they currently live. They partner with an enemy that has always been present in the area: narcotrafficking. Both threats—terrorism and narcotrafficking—are factors that attract other threats, such as human trafficking. But to answer the first question, after what happened in the 1980s and the 1990s, not only with Chavín de Huántar, our Armed Forces improved or implemented strategic planning, but with a different vision, where interoperability of the three branches [Army, Navy, Air Force] had to be clear. Consequently, the Joint Special Operations and Intelligence Command (CIOEC, in Spanish) was created under the Joint Command, as the head of the special forces in our Armed Forces.
Diálogo: What are the main changes that occurred after CIOEC was created?
Brig. Gen. Molina: Our participation as a special forces brigade was more direct, because we relied on the commander of the Joint Command and operated with our battalions, the 19th Command Battalion and the 61st Command Battalion. But after CIOEC was created, a tradition of using special forces was established. Now there are units from the Navy, the Army’s famous Joint Special Force with some patrols, and the Air Force.
Diálogo: How do you contribute to this structure?
Brig. Gen. Molina: Currently, we have six patrols from the 61st Command Battalion, which are part of CIOEC’s Bravo Force, and we have four patrols from the 19th Command Battalion, which operate now in VRAEM areas as part of the special forces component. But what’s peculiar here is that I no longer operate as force commander. Instead, I train them; they are equipped based on the structure we have, and in this case we transfer command to the head of the special forces system, which is CIOEC. They currently have direct command of the patrols that depart from here, from the base brigade, to support CIOEC.
Diálogo: What training do you conduct with the United States?
Brig. Gen. Molina: There’s plenty of coordination between CIOEC and the advisory team. Sometimes our commanders have direct contact with them. Some coordination takes place with U.S Southern Command elements, which usually sends personnel to train us or teach specific courses—for example planning, tactical operations, or operational missions, for which they bring their own instructors. Many times, they also bring the resources, because our budget is too tight to train the force as we would like to. In this sense, the United States has been very supportive, both for Bravo Force’s troops and those of the 19th Command Battalion.
Diálogo: What training do you do with other countries of the region?
Brig. Gen. Molina: I would say that it’s not like the training [we carry out] with the United States. Rather, we send officers at the top positions of the regular command program; the best two attend the Ranger Course in Colombia. Then, they come back with this experience and become instructors at the Command School. I think that we’ve had more participation with Colombia or Brazil at that level with some units on the border, because they are not necessarily special forces. We have bilateral meetings where we agree to have one force or unit, not necessarily units, to participate in combined planning, for example, on the border with Colombia. The units are on the borders with their general staffs to take part in planning to integrate capabilities and observe how operations are conducted. Sometimes they can carry out operations, but we do not necessarily participate as special forces.
Diálogo: You have almost 30 years of experience in the military. What’s the main lesson you learned in all these years?
Brig. Gen. Molina: I think one should lead by example. As a general, I have my years of experience, but I always lead by example—in other words, doing things so that others will do them as well. But one has to be the first to do them. Age isn’t irrelevant, and one doesn’t have the physical capacity of a person in their 20s. But the spirit is still the same. That’s what’s important.
Diálogo: Is there anything you would like to tell Diálogo readers?
Brig. Gen. Molina: I think that a country without security, without peace for its citizens and inhabitants, generates a lot of distrust and despair. As members of the special forces, our belief in our profession and the mission we must carry out at any time and place encourages us. Our people will confront the threats that arise. They will have the capabilities to operate and carry out this mission, and above all to give our people and our society the peace they need to lead their lives normally. I think it’s a personal and professional challenge, so that our citizens, our people, can live in peace and with certainty that their Armed Forces—the Army, Navy, Air Force, and particularly the special forces—are always prepared to operate when the nation requires it.