General César Augusto Astudillo Salcedo, general commander of the Peruvian Army, is very well acquainted with the fight against terrorism. In 1997, he participated in Operation Chavín de Huántar, a hostage-rescue operation the military carried out when the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement seized the Japanese Embassy. In 2014, he went on to lead the Apurímac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers Valley (VRAEM, in Spanish) Special Command.
These experiences allowed Gen. Astudillo to flesh out a more solid vision for the Peruvian Army's frontal assault against terrorism and to outline new institutional goals to strengthen the institution in the face of new security challenges. Gen. Astudillo granted Diálogo an interview during a visit to Lima, Peru. He discussed the Army’ priorities, the fight against terrorism, humanitarian aid operations, and international cooperation.
Diálogo: What is your most important goal as commander general of the Peruvian Army?
General César Augusto Astudillo Salcedo, general commander of the Peruvian Army: Our most important goal is to fulfill the Army's mission. Our mission is to ready the force, and we work on that, using all our efforts to take on our functions of instruction, training, maintenance, and equip our personnel.
Diálogo: What are the goals and priorities of the Peruvian Army in terms of the participation of its troops in missions in support of the National Police in the fight against narcotrafficking?
Gen. Astudillo: Not long ago, we only had one mission, one main task, which was a conflict scenario on a battlefield, comprising the enemy, the terrain, directions of approach, weather conditions, and all the classic things we knew about war. However, the threats have changed now, and we went from having one mission to having 11. A major threat in our country is the illicit trafficking of drugs, and, of course, we have to fight that. The Peruvian National Police works hard to fight this scourge of humanity, not only in Peru. And, in doing that, the state participates with all its forces. The Army supports the National Police with its entire logistical and security platform, and did that perfectly in the VRAEM. It also did that in Huallaga, as well as in Putumayo, and wherever law enforcement requires it. We had excellent results working with the police.
Diálogo: Why do you feel that the presence of terrorist organizations persists in your country, more specifically, the remnants of the Shining Path in the VRAEM?
Gen. Astudillo: Militarily, the Shining Path has been defeated. Just as the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement was defeated. These movements had the entire country by the throat during the 1990s and early 2000s. With the participation of the Armed Forces and the National Police, we managed to neutralize both organizations. Their main leaders are in prison, and the only parts left are the remnants, as they're called, of Shining Path in the VRAEM. In and of themselves, these remnants do not constitute a threat. They are not a threat like narcotrafficking or the Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (MOVADEF, in Spanish), which could constitute a major threat because of their significance. The Shining Path's effectiveness as a political and ideological power was completely neutralized. Currently, they engage exclusively in providing security for narcotrafficking and haven’t participated within any of the main communities throughout the VRAEM. Local military forces available in the area through the VRAEM Special Command quickly neutralize them.
Diálogo: Does that mean that eliminating the remnants of the Shining Path is one of the activities you carry out with the police?
Gen. Astudillo: The important thing is that operations in the VRAEM and support to the police are carried out through the Armed Forces Joint Command. The Army, Air Force, and Navy provide forces, aircraft, and resources to the Joint Command. In our case, we contribute properly trained personnel and equipment or assets, aircraft, and vehicles in perfect condition so the Joint Command can consolidate these resources and direct operations in support of the police against narcotrafficking, illegal logging, deforestation, human trafficking, etc. It does this directly with respect to territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence.
Diálogo: General, Peru also works in the sphere of civilian-military operations. Can you talk about that?
Gen. Astudillo: As the Joint Command, we also participate in humanitarian aid activity. As the Army, we participate in national development through the Development Aid Command, known as COADNE. We currently do work in disaster and risk management that resulted from the 2017 El Niño, and we even work on housing for personnel who lost their homes in the north. We still work in the Central Highlands to prevent landslides, and we support athletics. We will host the 2019 Panamerican Games next year, so we work with the committee on all their sports, including leveling out the land for housing.
Diálogo: Military work includes supporting the population during natural disasters. How does the Army train to face these emergencies?
Gen. Astudillo: Disaster and risk management is a goal we really took on in the past few years, although we always had that function. During the Yungay earthquake in the Huaraz area , the Army went in with paratroopers and helped on a permanent basis. Whenever a natural disaster or another incident occurs, we always participate in one way or another. However, our participation is now formalized in terms of doctrine and mission to participate in disaster and risk management. Training is now permanent. Our organizations changed. We now have battalions assigned to respond when called on to support the population. For example, we inaugurated a multi-purpose brigade at the end of March, and one of their main activities will be to serve the population at risk for disasters, landslides, earthquakes, etc. This unit is equipped with a field hospital and armored vehicle bridge launchers, and we do maintenance on all of our vehicles to support the population.
Diálogo: Will humanitarian aid for natural disaster relief only be carried out at the national level, or do you also consider offering it to regional partner nations if they ask for it?
Gen. Astudillo: Of course, that would be ideal because we have likewise offered international aid. During the 2016 earthquake in Manta, Ecuador, we went to help them. When the landslides happened in 2017, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, and others came to help us. In South America, we have common enemies, such as contraband smuggling, narcotrafficking, human trafficking, and criminal gangs, and among the main threats we all share are natural risks and disasters. So, we have to work jointly. I believe we should, and we have an obligation to do so.
Diálogo: Have you collaborated with Central American countries in disaster response?
Gen. Astudillo: Only at the doctrinal level.
Diálogo: What are the benefits of working with the United States and other nations in facing these types of shared threats?
Gen. Astudillo: Combining our efforts is always the best thing we can do. Any support we can get from other countries, especially if it’s the United States, a military superpower, of course, we welcome this help. We will continue to work with the United States—their help and support are very valuable.
Diálogo: Are there agreements with other countries in the region to face these shared threats?
Gen. Astudillo: The most important one is with the United States. We have agreements with Spain, for example, for explosives destruction, which is very important for us. We have bilateral agreements with all our sister nations: Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, and Chile. We have bilateral meetings with every country where we reach important agreements, agreements on humanitarian aid and the exchange of intelligence to counteract threats.
Diálogo: General, now that the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti ended, will the Peruvian Army continue to participate in peace missions in other countries?
Gen. Astudillo: Yes, we continue to participate. Right now, we work in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, and we deployed a very large contingent not only in terms of human resources, but also logistics. We will remain there because I consider it not just a commitment to the United Nations [UN], but also a commitment to ourselves because it keeps our personnel trained.
Diálogo: In addition to peace missions, what other international efforts is the Army involved in?
Gen. Astudillo: Particularly in the mass destruction of weapons. We are involved in the issue of hemispheric security with the United States. We work on a permanent basis with the Inter-American Defense Board of the Organization of American States, and we work at the global level when the UN allows us to participate. We also have representatives in New York, as far as the Army is concerned, to participate directly in agreements that exist in the area of security.
Diálogo: What is your message for the other commanders of the region?
Gen. Astudillo: That we join together into a great force that will allow us to maintain peace throughout the Americas forever.