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Security Brief: SOUTHCOM Week of October 4, 2021

Week of Monday, October 4, 2021 | Issue 47

Raphael Martin, Stacey Casas, Steven Cortez, SOUTHCOM Team


The National Liberation Army (ELN)[1]


Date: October 5, 2021

Location: El Púlpito, Teorama, North Santander, Colombia

Parties involved: Colombian government; The National Liberation Army (ELN); Rapid Deployment Force No. 3

The event: ELN attacked troops of the Rapid Deployment Forces in the village of El Púlpito, municipality of Teorama, North Santander, Colombia, leaving one soldier dead. The event occurred at a time when Colombian troops were carrying out control operations in the area and were attacked by members of the Organized Armed Group (GAO). North Santander has become a critical area of many attacks and operations by the ELN, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the National Army. Given President Duque has continued to use military force as a way of handling violence, there has been a deterioration in peace talks with militia groups.[2]

The implications:

  • Attacks such as the one in the village of El Púlpito are likely to increase in the region if Colombian forces struggle to counter and deter attacks. This is likely to elevate fear among civilians who may view Colombian forces as incapable of protecting their citizens from terrorist attacks. Therefore, fighting between the Colombian government and armed militias is an increasing threat to Colombian national security and stability and is likely to lead to greater rates of internal displacement.

  • ELN forces are likely to continue to take advantage of the mountainous regions of Colombia as the area is ideal for underground activities and operations. If ELN retreats further into territory that is geographically difficult for national forces to reach, then it is highly likely that they will continue to attack Colombian forces with the strategic advantage of inaccessible terrain. This is likely to allow them to conduct more covert operations and establish strong bases for illicit activities, without the fear of potential raids from Colombian forces.

  • Colombian President Duque‘s position of continued military force has almost certainly contributed to the deterioration of peace talks with militia groups. If Colombia looks to establish peace in the country, the government needs to consider credible peace agreements with concessions on both sides. Without effective engagement with armed groups in the region, more attacks against Colombian forces and civilians are highly likely.

  • The resurgence of ELN militants could negatively impact Colombia economically as it is likely to deter foreign investors from funding new developments and projects. This would suggest decreased security and economic development within Colombia.

Date: October 5, 2021

Location: La Libertad, Colón, El Salvador

Parties involved: El Salvadoran National Civil Police; El Salvadoran Military; MS-13

The event: In the municipality of Colón, El Salvador, several operations have been conducted against the MS-13 criminal organization after a soldier was killed by 6 alleged gang members.[3] El Salvadoran President, Nayib Bukele, has enacted strict policies on COVID-19 restrictions, and the undemocratic removal of government officials, which has caused an increase in civil unrest and subsequently a surge in violent activity by gangs such as MS-13.[4] Additionally, the United States has decided to redirect funding from the El Salvadoran state towards civil society groups in response to growing authoritarianism.[5]

The implications:

  • Gang violence is likely to increase as a result of civil and political unrest in El Salvador. Gangs are likely to use the current instability as an effective recruiting mechanism by offering individuals money and protection. If MS-13 continues to grow and take advantage of the current social, political, and economic crises in El Salvador, then national forces will almost certainly face increased challenges from gang attacks.

  • President Nayib Bukele’s strict policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, his handling of gang violence, and the political crisis he caused in May 2021 tend to raise concerns on his undemocratic governance. He is likely to push the country further towards authoritarianism. This excessive use of violence against MS-13 from the government may very likely result in increased gang violence.

  • Civil society might be caught in the crossfire of the MS-13 and the autocratic progress of Bukele’s government, which would almost certainly lead to more civilian casualties in the process. The number of assassinations and political arrests is very likely to increase. If such a crisis occurs, it will almost certainly lead to civilians fleeing the country in search of political and economic security.

  • Massive emigration is likely to negatively impact economic development in El Salvador through a reduced workforce, while the neighboring countries are likely to experience a refugee crisis due to the surge in migrants. This is likely to have broader socio-economic impacts on receiving countries and could cause high unemployment rates, food insecurity, and worsen the COVID-19 health crises.

  • The United States’ decision to redirect funding away from El Salvador’s State institutions has a roughly even chance to either create more economic harm and social unrest or help alleviate social troubles in the country. With less funding going towards Bukele’s government, gangs such as MS-13 will likely try to increase their control within the country. However, if funding is redirected towards civil society groups then it is likely that El Salvadoran citizens will receive greater support as there will be a lower chance of corrupt government officials siphoning funds.

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[1] "ELN guerrilla poster" by Julián Ortega Martínez licensed under Creative Commons

[2] ELN attack in Norte de Santander leaves one soldier dead, RCN Radio, October 2021, https://www.rcnradio.com/colombia/santanderes/ataque-del-eln-en-norte-de-santander-deja-un-soldado-muerto

[3] Militares y policías realizan capturas de sospechosos de matar a soldado en cantón El Botoncillal, ElSalvador.com, October 2021, https://www.elsalvador.com/noticias/nacional/asesinato-de-militares-soldado-asesinatos/886389/2021/ (Translated by Raphael Martin)

[4] US steers El Salvador funding away from government, AP News, May 2021, https://apnews.com/article/us-supreme-court-el-salvador-health-coronavirus-pandemic-2f561b49e3fab03fb776b132180a7565​​

[5] Ibid

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