BOGOTA – Colombia’s armed forces launched on Monday a huge operation to dispatch 2,000 soldiers to the Pacific coastal city of Tumaco to fight the drug trafficking that has made that southwestern region a powder keg, officials said.
“Simultaneously, we’re transporting 2,000 armed, equipped and trained soldiers to fight the threats in Nariño province,” where Tumaco is located, the Colombian air force (FAC) said on its Twitter account.
The transport of the army, air force and navy troops began on Monday morning using eight Hercules aircraft, which took off from the Tolemaida Air Base in central Colombia, and it is estimated that the operation will conclude sometime overnight.
The 2,000 soldiers will take part in Operation Exodus 2018 designed to combat the prevailing lack of security in Tumaco, which has Colombia’s second largest Pacific port and from where tons of cocaine are illegally shipped each year to Central America, Mexico and the US, authorities say.
In addition, in that municipality, a reported 23,148 hectares (about 58,000 acres) of coca are under cultivation, 16 percent of the country’s total acreage devoted to that crop, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The situation in the zone worsened on Oct. 5, when seven coca-growing peasants were killed while protesting in Tandil, a remote part of Tumaco, against the eradication of their coca crop, an incident that initially was attributed by the authorities to one of the dissident groups of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas.
However, the national government opened an investigation to look into accusations by local residents against the security forces and in late December the Attorney General’s Office decided to file charges against a police officer and an army officer for the killings.
Days after the massacre, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the National Police director, Gen. Jorge Hernando Nieto, to fire 102 members of the force stationed in Tumaco for excesses committed during anti-drug operations.
Operation Exodus 2018 was conceived to “provide security to the southwestern part of the country, decisively attacking the factors of instability that prevent development of the region and confronting the threats that affect the tranquility of its residents,” the FAC said.