Today’s operational environment of the military forces has become highly complex. It possesses numerous variables that can both complicate or facilitate the completion of the key objectives faced by commanders. Under these circumstances, the correct assessment of each operational context becomes a matter of paramount importance. Of such contexts is represented by the concept of civil affairs within the framework of military activities.
This notion refers to the complex social environment that is largely responsible for determining the outcome of land-based operations. In these cases, each unit works in a specific context that reflects the culture, ethics, values, and principles of this particular environment. The key idea is to prevent the interference of civilians and related factors with the operations conducted by the military forces. As such, civil affairs operations aim to coordinate the mission with these variables with the purpose of achieving maximum efficiency, thus increasing the possibility of operational success.
The present report investigates the principles of civil affairs in the Army’s Special Forces within the context of the Peruvian narco-traffic in the VRAEM area. This country has taken one of the world’s leading positions in terms of cocaine production and sales. Numerous residents of Peru are engaged in these illegal activities, ensuring the international flow of narcotics. From there, cocaine is further delivered to Europe and North America, contributing to the global narco-traffic issue. The U.S. aims to interrupt these activities and cut the supply of drugs, but the several-decade long struggle is yet to provide meaningful and lasting results.
Following the operation’s initial success of the previous century, the resurgence of the narco-traffic has been causing new issues for the American government. In this regard, it appears possible to engage the Civil Affairs aspect of the operational environment to ensure a better chance of combating the cocaine traffic in the VRAEM area.
Analysis of the Problem
Historically, South America saw an increased level of drug-related activity due to several factors. First of all, the continent is relatively remote, which limits the assessment and intervention potential of the international community. Second, a large part of South America belongs to the wilderness, such as impenetrable jungle and mountainous areas. Remaining further away from the civilization, cartels and other illegal organizations could expand their production capacity. As a result, narco-traffickers operate in a secure environment, in which the possibility of an unwanted interference is lower.
Furthermore, as the economic situation of many South American nations is sub-optimal, their residents willingly engage in narco-traffic as a means of improving their own living conditions through increased income. This way, drug producers receive additional support of the local population, which helps them conceal their operations. Finally, narco-traffickers often receive the higher-level support of corrupt politicians who cover the illegal activity in exchange for considerable remunerations. The combination of these factors has helped drug businesses in South America thrive, simultaneously impeding the intervention capacity of the foreign military and intelligence.
Today, Peru has become one of the centers of the South American narco-traffic. According to Pardo and Inzunza (2014), this country is now “the biggest cocaine producer and exporter in the world” (para. 1). For local farmers, the coca cultivation remains one of the leading sources of income, especially in remote areas. Furthermore, entire Peruvian families willingly work at the coca plantations as a means of providing themselves with sustenance.
The country’s cocaine industry is centered around one vast area of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro River Valleys (VRAEM). As per the information provide by Pardo and Inzunza (2014), the annual production of cocaine in the region amounts to over 200 tons with the highest estimations reaching 400 tons. In comparison, the global cocaine production per year is estimated at the level of 600 tons, leaving Peru with 33%-66% of the worldwide traffic. Until recently, the Peruvian government hardly exercised any form of control over VRAEM, which was ruled by criminal groups. The area is highly remote, as reaching it is a matter of great resources, efforts, and time. The proximity of the Bolivian border equally facilitates the international narco-traffic.
The cultivation and processing of coca leaves sees an increased participation of the local population. Pardo and Inzunza (2014) report that very few people earn over $280 per month in the VRAEM area. Because of the daunting prospects of poverty, residents of the region become ready to participate in the drug-related activity, maintaining the stable supply of narcotics for illegal organizations. In fact, many of them are not informed of the destination of the product, as well as its lethal effect on the users worldwide. For farmers and other residents of Peru, coca cultivation is merely a profitable area of business that helps them avoid poverty and aim at better lives. Therefore, their interest is, by most part, purely economic, meaning that money remains the key incentive for most people engaged in the Peruvian narco-traffic.
Considering the scope of the problem, the United States Army has found it urgent and necessary to react to it. In the 1980s and 1990s, the area of Alto Huallaga was the center of the cocaine production in Peru. The U.S. invested millions of dollars into the coca eradication, which is why this major point of the narco-traffic eventually ceased to exist. However, the outcome of the operation did not last, as Alto Huallaga became merely replaced by the VRAEM region.
This development suggests that there are profound issues that facilitate the growth and spread of narco-traffic in Peru. As described previously, the unfortunate economic situation prompts the residents to disregard the actual use of the product their cultivate. As such, when promised bigger-than-average financial returns, they actively contribute to rebuilding and solidifying the cocaine industry of the country.
Based on the analysis of the problem under review, it is possible to identify a specific irregular problem that persists in the area. More specifically, the societal context of Peru – and the VRAEM area, in particular – create obstacles for the local and international efforts to eradicate the production and export of cocaine. Due to the pressing economic issues, thousands of local residents struggle to sustain an adequate living standard. Coca production is an easy solution for them in terms of improving their financial situations. In other words, having few other avenues of stable income, people find it easier to support and participate in the cocaine export activities.
Therefore, the irregular problem consists of the considerable support of the illegal activities on behalf of the local population. Coca cultivation has become an integral part of life for local Peruvians, which is why the direct interference of the U.S. forces may face an active resistance. Furthermore, eradicating the source of the narco-traffic may leave local people without income. Consequently, guerilla activity against the U.S. may see a colossal increase.
Civil Affairs in the SOCOM Enterprise
For the SOCOM enterprise, the role of Civil Affairs has been on a stable increase across the past years. According to the commander Kenneth E. Tovo, the operational effectiveness of the Army Special Operations Forces is not a subject of concern (USASOC 2035, 2017). However, the operational environment of the army remains subject to profound transformations. These changes have been particularly strong in the 21st century, occurring along with the evolution of social landscape. The role of Civil Affairs is to ensure that the societal aspects of the environment do not impede the completion of the missions faced by the Special Operations Forces.
Among its five core competencies, the discussed problem will require a strong presence of the civil information management. This principle suggests that the Army Special Operations Forces actively engage in the information exchange with local communities, providing them with the context of the problem (U.S. Department of Army, 2019). This way, residents of the area will be aware of the importance of the problem that the U.S. Army seeks to eradicate. The approach will adhere with the best current practices of Special Operations that ensure the completion of the task while reducing the concerns and obstacles of the civilians.
From the perspective of the civil information management, the first phase of the intervention in the VRAEM area will comprise effective civilian work. More specifically, the information units of the U.S. Army Special Operations Forces are to launch an educational campaign across the region. As inferred from the researched materials, local residents are not fully aware of the destination of the coca they help cultivate and process. Through the proposed campaign, the U.S. Army will provide them with sufficient knowledge to understand the actual purpose of the production and export. If the civilians see the true damaging potential of cocaine and its colossal traffic on a global scale. It is expected that this information will reduce the support that traffickers see from the community.
The economic incentive of the matter at hand will be more difficult to counteract. First of all, it is not the U.S. responsibility to eradicate the economic problems within Peruvian regions. However, it is possible to educate the locals that the easiest, albeit illegal, sources of income cannot provide the stability in the long-term. If the people currently engaged in coca cultivation see the alternatives more clearly, the U.S. will see weaker resistance when eradicating the source of the narco-traffic. Having completed the information campaign, the Special Forces will be able to proceed to an active, direct engagement under more favorable circumstances.
Ultimately, the ongoing issue of cocaine traffic in the VRAEM area of Peru is a major concern for the global community. Under the present circumstances, the U.S. Army will find it difficult to eradicate the source of the narco-traffic without an active resistance of the locals for whom it remains the key source of income. As per the Civil Affairs principles, a civil information campaign will help the Army reduce the level of internal traffic support. The population of Peru will receive detailed information regarding the damage done by the cocaine industry, both locally and globally, as well as their personal risks of participation. This way, the complete, lasting eradication of the VRAEM center of Peruvian narco-traffic will be more likely.
Pardo, J. L., & Inzunza, A. S. (2014). Peru’s VRAEM region: The home of miss coca. Insight Crime. Web.
U.S. Department of Army. (2019). FM 3-57: Civil affairs operations. Web.
USASOC 2035. (2017). Web.