Colombia’s Armed Forces, National Police Protect Oil Pipelines from Terrorist Attacks

Colombia’s Military is working with the National Police to protect the country’s oil pipelines and other infrastructure from terrorist attacks by the FARC and ELN.

Holger Alava | 27 July 2015


Colombia’s Armed Forces and National Police recently captured 26 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who allegedly participated in attacks against oil pipelines and law enforcement officers.

The arrests are part of an ongoing effort to protect the country’s infrastructure from terrorist organizations.

On June 19, Naval forces, which are part of the Poseidon Task Force Against Drug Trafficking, teamed with the National Police, the Unified Action Groups for Personal Liberty’s (GAULA) Anti-Kidnapping Unit, Marine Battalion No. 40 and the SIJIN police force to apprehend six suspects in the department of Nariño. They’re believed to belong to the FARC’s Daniel Aldana Column, a group operating in Nariño’s port city of Tumaco, according to Law enforcement and Military authorities.

The column is allegedly behind a series of attacks in the region against oil pipelines, including one in Tumaco that caused the spill of 410,000 gallons of oil that polluted the Cuanapí, Rosario and Mira rivers and left 160,000 people without drinking water. Authorities have said water service would be restored by August.

Also on June 19, the National Police, Air Force and other members of the Armed Forces worked together to capture 20 suspected FARC rebels, including an alleged leader of the terrorist group who is known as “Pupilo.” Those suspects are accused of blowing up an electrical tower and attacking the Trans-Andean pipeline with explosives before they were taken into custody.

“Pupilo led terrorist actions,” Major General Rodrigo González, commander of Police Region 4, said. “This operation is one of the largest that has been developed in Nariño.”

Law enforcement authorities “have been able to link him to the recent attacks through informants,” he added.

Military, police must remain vigilant

While the capture of the 26 suspects strikes a strong blow against the FARC, the Armed Forces and police must remain vigilant, considering other members of the terrorist group are continuing to target the country’s oil pipelines.

On July 19, the FARC’s 33rd Front attacked the T293 well in the department of Santander, causing minor damage to the facility’s motor control board and electrical system. That same day, the FARC’s 48th Front used an improvised explosive device (IED) on the Trans-Andean pipeline in Nariño, causing a blast that emitted toxic vapors and endangered the civilian population.

And on June 9, FARC operatives wearing civilian clothes and carrying firearms forced the drivers of four tanker trucks to dump all of the 200,000 gallons of crude oil they were transporting into waterways in the department of Putumayo.

“The two main rebel groups, FARC and ELN (National Liberation Army), have been blowing up pipelines that carry oil for foreign companies. The result has been that almost three million barrels of oil, which amounts to 14 Exxon Valdezes, have ended up polluting soil and water,” the website Living on Earth reported. The Exxon Valdez was an oil tanker that gained notoriety by spilling hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil after running aground in Prince William Sound off the coast of Alaska on March 24, 1989, resulting in the second-largest oil spill in U.S. history.

“At the current juncture, the entire sector needs support to maintain its momentum and continue to generate the resources to fund large projects,” Minister of Mines and Energy Tomás González Estrada said.

Navy Task Force assigned to Tumaco

Protecting oil pipelines and tanker trucks that transport crude oil are important to the mission of the Poseidon Task Force, which is made up of 1,500 Troops who also combat drug trafficking, extortion and oil theft.

“Task Force Poseidon is the main unit that responds to everything that happens in Tumaco,” Admiral Paulo Guevara, the unit’s commander, told Diálogo.

“In Tumaco, armed criminals mingle with the people and in that sense, it’s very difficult to control those people who on the one hand follow the guerrillas’ guidelines and who profit from drug trafficking, extortion, mining and fuel smuggling,” he added.

The Navy has dismantled about 80 percent of the Daniel Aldana’s second company by capturing or killing its members, including key leaders. In February, Óscar Armando “Oliver” Sinisterra, who was responsible for planning and coordinating attacks against civilians and security forces in the country’s southwest, was killed in rural Tumaco.

“Our challenge is to defend western Colombia both at sea and (in) land operations from the threat of all territorial groups,” Admiral Guevara said. “We also carry out unarmed operations to support the community and the local government. It is a very important armed and unarmed effort.”