Under the name “Operation Thunder,” Colombia’s military forces have responded to criminal structures operating in the Cauca region that have spread violence throughout the southern part of the country with two attacks last week. The operation, which involved an additional 200 soldiers, targeted the Carlos Patiño, Jaime Martinez, and Dagoberto Ramos structures of the Central Staff (EMC), the most significant dissident group of the FARC, which engages in illegal activities in the region.
A deployment by land, river, and air by the military forces has resulted in 20 EMC militants killed and an equal number captured and brought to justice. The objective was to disrupt the sources of financing for this armed group, including drug trafficking, illicit mining exploitation, and extortion, among other crimes.
Reinforcing the State’s Presence
The operation is not new. Operation Thunder has been ongoing since late August when the military was preparing to regain control of an area that has been plagued by illegal armed groups, bringing violence to the Cauca and the southern Pacific region. What has been witnessed in recent days is a stepping up of the operation in response to the violence that occurred the previous week. It serves as a demonstration of the government’s resolve amidst doubts about the country’s security policies that have permeated social and political life.
The attacks in Timba and Jamundi, which affected civilian populations, were the last straw. President Petro had called on the military forces to regain control of the region. To achieve this, a military reinforcement was dispatched to reclaim a territory that has been subjected to violent actions by FARC dissidents for years.
The intervention involved helicopters, planes, drones, riverboats, and ground patrols, with operations taking place in the municipalities of Suarez, Miranda, Buenos Aires, Santander de Quilichao, Caloto, and Corinto. The Army’s ground operations are aimed at cutting off the mobility routes of the EMC’s illegal structures and their sources of financing.
Results on the Ground
In addition to the 20 dissidents killed, the Ministry of Defense has reported that 17 more militants have been captured, and another 17 have been handed over to the judicial authorities. Furthermore, 9 EMC camps have been dismantled, and 20 mined areas, along with 600 anti-personnel mines, have been neutralized.
The spokesman for the Armed Forces stated, “The 200 soldiers currently present in the deployment will be joined by components and equipment, both human and technical, from the Navy and the Aerospace Force, who will be crucial in detecting and disrupting the main routes and corridors used by criminals, as well as their illicit economies derived mainly from drug trafficking, extortion, and the illicit exploitation of mining sites.”
The military response was immediate after the president called for regaining control, and after an extraordinary security council meeting held in Jamundi (Valle del Cauca) and led by Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez. This town, south of the capital Cali, also suffered an EMC attack last week against a police station.
Violence Ahead of Dialogue
These acts of violence from both sides come shortly before the start of contentious peace talks, agreed upon between the state and the Central Staff, the FARC dissident group led by Iván Mordisco. Following the attacks that resulted in the deaths of 2 civilians, this group claimed responsibility and expressed its willingness to accept a bilateral ceasefire on the eve of dialogue with the state.
In fact, the EMC had declared a unilateral ceasefire after the attacks. However, the state’s response was swift, amid criticism of perceived political inaction in an area that has lived for too many years with the violence of these illegal armed groups, which took control of the territory following the demobilization and dissolution of the FARC in 2016.