Long concerned about Colombian guerillas in the border area of Esmeraldas Province, the Defense Ministry says it is now combating another incursion in the Amazonian Sucumbíos Province. In operations carried out since August 27, the army has captured weapons, firearms and other supplies near the communities of Puerto El Carmen and Lago Agrio.
According to Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrín, the infiltrators call themselves Los Comandos de la Frontera, or Border Commanders, and appear intent on expanding illegal drug operations into northeastern Ecuador. “We are still gathering intelligence on the forces but believe they are former FARC fighters who refused to honor the 2016 peace agreement with the Colombian government,” he says. “They appear well organized and wear CDF insignias on their uniforms.”
In addition to wanting to establish new coca-growing areas, Jarrín says the CDF forces may be seeking refuge from Colombian military patrols north of the border. “We are unclear of their motives but are taking their movements seriously and will commit all necessary resources to preventing them from establishing a stronghold. We know from previous experience that once a guerilla force sets up operations in a location, it is very hard to dislodge.”
The Ecuadorian military command currently has 140 troops in the area with more on the way, expected to arrive the week of September 7. Except for two minor firefights, commanders say encounters with the CDF have, so far, been limited. “Our strategy at the moment is to keep them on the run and disrupt their supply chain,” an operation commander said.
In addition to weapons and ammunition, Ecuadorian forces have captured 1,200 gallons of gasoline, food, clothing and tents. Jarrín says he believes the gasoline was brought in for the purpose of establishing a cocaine processing facility. “We are intent on stopping drug production but patrols are very difficult due to dense jungle and a network of illegally constructed roads that followed oil exploration in the 1980s and 90s.”
Asked about possible political motives of the guerillas, Jarrín said there are none. “In the past, there was some interest on their part of helping the local population but those days are long gone. Today, their interests are only about producing cocaine and making a profit from it.”