Two Peruvian soldiers were killed in an attack on a helicopter carried out by Shining Path guerrillas in the remote coca-growing VRAE region.
As La Republica reports, the attack occurred Wednesday afternoon near the town of San Martin de Pangoa, in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE), the heartland of the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) rebel group.
While on patrol as part of a routine counterinsurgency sweep, one of the men stepped on a landmine, and a helicopter was called to evacuate the unit. After the helicopter took off, guerrilla snipers opened fire, killing the pilot and another soldier on board. The co-pilot was able to take over, and the helicopter managed to escape the area.
The attack comes just days after the government reassessed its security strategy in the region.
Military sources believe that the guerrillas’ plan was to cause the aircraft to crash, killing all those inside it. This tactic has been used successfully before by the rebels, once in 1999 and again, ten years later, in 2009.
The attack occurred just six days after Peruvian President Ollanta Humala met with the leaders of the Joint Command of the Armed Forces in the country to re-evaluate military strategy in the VRAE. In addition to improving intelligence sharing mechanisms and further restricting access to precursor chemicals, Humala called for economic development in the impoverished region. “We have to win over the population, have them on our side. Otherwise, we’ll advance little or not at all; victory will be far off. So we agree that this war is not only military but also economic. Social inclusion is fundamental to taking the VRAE “said Humala.
As InSight Crime has reported, the region is extremely important to the illicit drugs trade, and is one of the last holdouts of the remnants of the rebel group. Some sectors of the local population have developed a dependent relationship on the guerrillas. Because economic opportunities are scarce in the VRAE, coca cultivation is one of the main sources of income there, and the Shining Path are the main purchasers of the plant.