The National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla announced the beginning of an armed strike in Colombia occurring from February 23 – 26, 2022. Multiple terrorist actions have been registered throughout the nation’s territory, primarily affecting civilians.
The ELN’s armed strike demonstrates the revitalization of this guerrilla group and its capabilities to carry out attacks in Colombia. It is likely that this is the first of many strikes and that guerrilla terrorism in Colombia will increase in the future.
On February 20th, the ELN published a statement announcing an armed strike with the aim of completely paralyzing Colombia’s commercial activities. The goal of the strike is to protest against the government and the policies of the current Colombian president, Iván Duque.
In addition, the document published by the ELN states that the population will only be able to mobilize for humanitarian reasons related to funeral activities or hospital emergencies. The ELN recommends, for security reasons, that individuals stay in their homes or workplaces and avoid displacements.
A few hours after the announcement, the Colombian Minister of Defense, Diego Molano, stated that the Colombian Public Forces are prepared to face the threats of the insurgent group and that the statement seeks to generate fear among Colombians.
Three Days of Attacks
On February 23rd attacks began throughout Colombia. Approximately 18 terrorist actions were registered, especially in the department of Norte de Santander.
One attack on the first day of the armed strike included an explosion in Cúcuta, Norte de Santander, which caused the death of Jelly, an anti-explosives dog, and injured her caretaker.
A few kilometers away, in the municipality of Los Patios, Norte de Santander, a suspicious package with a red and black ELN flag was reported, which was successfully detonated.
Likewise, a truck painted with the colors of the ELN flag was found blocking the road between Cúcuta and the municipality of Sardinata.
In the municipality of Pailitas, Cesar, the ELN detonated a bomb on the Los Trujillos bridge that connects Pailitas with the municipality of Curumaní. In the same municipality, three trucks were incinerated in a village.
On the Pan-American highway between Popayán and Cali, men armed with rifles, wearing camouflage and ELN armbands created a roadblock and set fire to a truck, blocking the road for several hours.
Another relevant attack on the first day of the armed strike occurred in San Gil, Santander, where an explosive was detonated on a road, injuring six workers of the National Roads Institute (Invías).
Terrorist attacks continued into the second day of the armed strike. In Fortul, Aracuca, ELN militiamen attacked the town’s police station with rifle fire and grenades, while at the same time taking pictures to spread propaganda.
Moreover, in Ricaurte, Nariño, the ELN incinerated the car of a villager and left banners alluding to the organization along the road. Additionally, ELN members killed Julio Victoria Cárdenas, a social leader in Litoral San Juan, Chocó.
During the third day of the armed strike the unrelenting attacks continued. On the Cúcuta-Ocaña road, two alleged ELN members blew up a stretch of the road by leaving an explosive device inside a culvert. Also, in Neiva, the capital of the department of Huila, an ELN flag was found hanging from a bridge. Finally, in Pelaya, Cesar, the ELN destroyed part of a bridge with explosives.
The Implications and the Future of the ELN in Colombia
The ELN guerrilla armed strike represents a challenge for Colombian authorities, especially since the attacks were strategically carried out a few days before the country’s legislative elections.
It is likely that the armed strike is a show of force by the ELN, a terrorist group which remains in an armed confrontation with FARC dissidents. More importantly, these attacks demonstrate the ELN’s logistical and weapons capacity, allowing them to carry out terrorist acts simultaneously in several departments throughout Colombia.
With imminent political elections, more attacks may occur in the near future. Some hypothesize that attacks may even occur on election day, in order to generate as much terror as possible among Colombians.
Additionally, the attacks may be an attempt to consolidate the ELN’s power in the Colombian territories and force negotiations with the Colombian State, like the government previously did with the FARC.
However, despite the ELN’s possible objectives and short and long term goals, the Colombian State must ensure the reestablishment of public order in the territories most affected by terrorist attacks, especially on election day.
Troop deployments are needed in the departments with the greatest ELN presence in order to confront the guerrillas and reestablish territorial control, and more importantly the population’s confidence.
It is recommended that the Colombian State efficiently employ its counterinsurgency and counterterrorist warfare capabilities to mitigate the impacts of ELN attacks, at least until a permanent solution to the conflict is developed.
Daniel Felipe Ruiz Rozo, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow
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