Paraguay’s EPP guerrillas have killed a soldier for the first time after a military operation spectacularly backfired, raising the question of whether the new government has the capacity to wage the war it has declared on the rebels.
On December 8, a joint task force consisting of army and police personnel was ambushed by a guerrilla cell from the Paraguay People’s Army (EPP) as they prepared what was supposed to be a surprise attack against the same cell. The attack — in the Horqueta district of the state of Concepcion — left one soldier dead and another seriously wounded, with the estimated five guerrillas escaping unharmed.
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Preliminary reports on the operation suggest that barking dogs and other noises gave away the position of the security forces, allowing the EPP cell to pack away their camp and circle back on the unit.
The day after the assault, Interior Minister Francisco De Vargas admitted the operation had been a tactical failure but said they had no information regarding rumors the guerrillas had been tipped off and refused to comment on suggestions of tensions between the military and the police.
The killing brings the total number of dead attributed to EPP violence to 33 since 2005, but all previous victims have been police or civilians, reported EFE.
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Until recently, taking on the EPP had been tasked to the police and not the armed forces. This has changed under the Presidency of Horacio Cartes, who has used his first 100 days in office to militarize anti-guerrilla efforts as part of a frontal assault against the rebels.
Cartes’ policies have included passing reforms to the National Defense Law that granted him direct power over military deployments, which he said would allow him to react more efficiently to the threat of the EPP.
However, the operation on Sunday, which EFE reported was the first time the military has directly led an attack on the EPP, raises concerns over whether the military has the resources and training required to effectively carry out counter-insurgency operations.