A company-sized advisory team from the Army’s 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade will deploy to Colombia on June 1 to support counter-narcotics operations in the Caribbean, U.S. Southern Command announced Thursday.
The SFAB team, whose mission is to train, advise and assist foreign militaries, will work with local security forces in parts of the country designated by the Colombian government as “priority areas," SOUTHCOM officials said in a statement. The advisers will help with logistics, intelligence capabilities and information sharing.
Colombia’s neighbor, Venezuela, is still reeling from political upheaval and a fractured economy due to mismanagement and U.S. sanctions.
U.S. officials have blamed Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro for failing to clamp down on militant groups and allowing their activities to continue unchallenged. A January report by Human Rights Watch documented an increase in criminal activity in Colombia’s Arauca province and Venezuela’s Apure state by several armed groups.
A so-called “enhanced counter-narcotics mission” was first announced by President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary Mark Esper during an April 1 press briefing at the White House following a U.S. drug indictment against Maduro.
“Corrupt actors, like the illegitimate Maduro regime in Venezuela, rely on the profits derived from the sale of narcotics to maintain their oppressive hold on power," Esper said at the briefing. “The Venezuelan people continue to suffer tremendously due to Maduro and his criminal control over the country, and drug traffickers are seizing on this lawlessness.”
Maduro has denied the allegations of criminality and accused the U.S. and Colombia of “giving orders to flood Venezuela with violence.”
The enhanced counter-narcotics mission also involves the deployment of additional ships and aircraft to the area under SOUTHCOM’s responsibility, including Navy destroyers, littoral combat ships, Coast Guard cutters and P-8 patrol aircraft. Esper said the additional forces would nearly double SOUTHCOM’s counter-narcotics capabilities.
“We help our partners develop security capabilities so they can apply persistent pressure on violent extreme organizations and provide security for their nation while helping us counter the threats to the U.S.,” said 1st SFAB commander Brig. Gen. Scott Jackson in a statement Thursday.
Despite the 1st SFAB sending its advisers to Afghanistan and Africa during its first real-world missions, the brigade is expected to be regionally aligned with SOUTHCOM and focused on working with Latin American countries in the future.
The duration of the SFAB team’s deployment is yet to be determined, and the team will remain with their host units as long as determined by U.S. and Colombia military leadership, SOUTHCOM stated in the release.
The U.S. soldiers will also have to abide by a 14-day mandatory isolation when they arrive in Colombia due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the release added.
The chaotic situation in the region was spotlighted earlier this month, following a botched coup attempt in Venezuela that was led by a former Green Beret named Jordan Goudreau.
It also involved two other former Green Berets — Luke Denman and Airan Berry — both of whom were captured during the operation.
Goudreau had been training Venezuelan defectors in Colombia for months prior to the coup attempt, sparking questions about how U.S. and Colombian authorities were unaware of the operation he had planned.
While Goudreau’s whereabouts remain unknown, he is now under federal investigation for arms trafficking, current and former U.S. law enforcement officials told the Associated Press.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.