Colombia’s last-standing rebel group, the ELN, appears to have embarked on an ambitious expansion plan, consolidating control over a cross-country corridor from the Pacific coast to Venezuela.
According to conflict monitoring website Verdad Abierta, early warnings of the Ombudsman’s Office indicate that the guerrillas”Western War Front” under the leadership of “Uriel” has been able to expand from the Pacific coast to the Antioquia province, despite armed resistance from the military and paramilitary group AGC.
This has allowed Uriel to connect with the Dario Ramirez War Front, which has been consolidating territory in the north and creating a crucial corridor between the Eastern War Front and the Northeastern War Front that controls much of the Venezuelan border.
The National Army claimed last year that this war front led by “Pirry” had been “practically eliminated,” but according to the ombudsman office and media reports on guerrilla activity, the opposite is true.
The ELN’s apparent strategy is “to establish a mobility corridor and obtain control over the routes located between the Pacific coast of Choco and the eastern border with Venezuela, crossing Antioquia, the southern region of Bolivar, Norte de Santander and Arauca,” according to the Ombudsman.
It seems that the ELN intends to position itself in areas previously controlled by the Farc, thus securing the mobility corridor that connects Northeast Antioquia with South Bolivar. This guarantees better communication and operational coordination with the Darío Ramírez Castro War Front that operates in the department of Antioquia, from which it receives instructions, tactical support, weapons and supplies.
Contrary to the military’s claims, Pirry’s units appear to have expanded their territory in the Magdalena Media region since 2016. This is in addition to a 50-kilometer wide corridor connecting his central territory with that of the Northeastern War Front, which is led by who the authorities call “Ricardo” or “Jose Luis.”
This front, that is mainly active in the Norte de Santander province, connects easily with the Eastern War Front in Arauca which through Venezuelan territory.
The corridor that appears to be established is of major military importance, because it allows the movement of reinforcements, supplies and arms from west to east. Equally important is that it covers territories that are rich of natural resources and coca.
The ELN’s apparent territorial gains and the creation of a corridor that cuts the country in half is bad news for the security forces.
The National Army has failed to take control over former FARC territory without any military resistance. The ELN could make assuming territorial control even more complicated because they most certainly would put up resistance, especially if they are able to move reinforcements to units under attack.
But the biggest threat, as it has always been, is for the communities in ELN territory. They are the ones caught in the crossfire if fighting breaks out either between the guerrillas and the military, or the ELN and one of the paramilitary groups.