Tanks Roam Streets of Ecuador Island in Security Sweep

A crime sweep carried out by the Ecuadorean military in a coastal town is the latest sign of the military assuming duties more typically handled by the police.

In a security crackdown dubbed “Operation Lightning,” 800 soldiers from three branches of the armed forces were deployed Tuesday to Isla Trinitaria, a small island off the coast of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s most important port city.

Tanks roamed the streets and helicopters patrolled the air during the seven-hour operation, as members of the security forces conducted vehicle checks and held roadblocks.

The crime sweep resulted in the arrest of nine people for a variety of charges like weapons and drug possesion. One resident told El Comercio that although it was rare to see tanks on the streets of Isla Trinitaria, “if it is for security, they can come everyday.”

The operation is one of the clearest examples yet of the Ecuadorean military assuming the duties of a police force. Last year Ecuador’s police rebelled in response to a law that cut bonuses for the force: rebel officers temporarily held President Rafael Correa hostage until the military stepped in. In the aftermath of the uprising, hundreds of police were arrested or came under investigation.

The decision to launch a security sweep near Guayaquil appears to be recognition of the area’s strategic importance for criminal groups in Ecuador. The port city is among the world’s biggest sites for selling pirated merchandise. Some of Ecuador’s largest cocaine seizures take place in Guayaquil, where traffickers take advantage of the busy port.