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Viewing cable 09LIMA1309, VRAE: GOP MOUNTS RESCUE OP FOR STRANDED SOLDIERS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09LIMA1309 2009-09-04 21:09 2010-12-12 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Lima
VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHPE #1309/01 2472101
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 042101Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY LIMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1176
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 0010
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 0018
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 8517
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 4093
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 1496
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ SEP MONTEVIDEO 9816
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 0011
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO 0009
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUMIAAA/USCINCSO MIAMI FL
C O N F I D E N T I A L LIMA 001309

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/03/2019
TAGS: PTER SNAR SOCI PGOV MOPS PE
SUBJECT: VRAE: GOP MOUNTS RESCUE OP FOR STRANDED SOLDIERS

REF: LIMA 1299

Classified By: DCM James Nealon for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: At approximately 1100 hrs on September 4,
Peruvian armed forces successfully overcame small arms fire,
weather delays and capability limitations, and rescued five
wounded soldiers stranded in the aftermath of the September 2
Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso, SL) attack on a Peruvian air
force (FAP) helicopter (ref). The attack and rescue are
perceived as symbolically significant and government troops
remain in the area and continue to battle SL forces. Major
challenges include the area's rough terrain, altitude, and
topography, in addition to security forces' lack of
intelligence, logistical lift and proper equipment. The US
provided only modest support to the rescue operation, despite
prominent political leaders public call for US assistance.
End summary.

2. (C) Peruvian armed forces successfully overcame daunting
obstacles, including intense small arms fire, to rescue by
air five wounded soldiers trapped in the wake of the
September 2 SL skirmish and subsequent attack on a Peruvian
air force (FAP) helicopter. The bodies of the three KIA crew
members still remain at the site, along with the rest of the
patrol (reportedly around 20-30). Military contacts indicate
that an additional group of 50-odd combat soldiers arrived
over land from Huachocolpa on September 3 to reinforce the
besieged original patrol.

Observations
-------------
3. (C) The September 2 latest attack is significant: after
several previous attempts, this is the first time since 1999
SL has downed a helicopter. Besides the high-profile blow,
the importance of the successful rescue loomed large, since
experts acknowledge that a failure could have had a
devastating impact on soldiers' morale. Authorities are
uncertain on how the soldiers' continued engagement will
proceed given the troops' bare-bones logistical abilities
against an enemy who is more used to the area's rough
terrain, high altitude, and topography. Dense jungle make it
nearly impossible to spot SL columns' locations at any given
moment. Elevations of around 12,000 feet makes the use of
heavy armored helicopters unfeasible, even if the FAP had
them. The FAP is understandably wary of sending helicopters
back to the same location for fear of additional attacks, and
dropping special forces onto a neighboring hill could mean
several days of trekking over steep terrain to get to the
site of the attack.

4. (C) Embassy military and security experts are in contact
with their Peruvian counterparts, but operational security
(OPSEC) for the ongoing mission is tight. For this reason the
following information cannot be confirmed.

-- Since the original patrol was reinforced by another fifty
fresh troops (infantry or special forces), it suggests that
more ground reinforcements could be inserted to fight the SL
if needed.

-- The logic to remain engaged with the SL in this
strategically unimportant area only makes military sense if
the security forces are sufficiently strong enough to inflict
meaningful damage on the SL.

-- A knowledgeable analyst cautioned that SL could be
diverting security forces' attention away from its true next
target to some place else in the VRAE.

-- The medical evacuation of the five WIA soldiers was
accomplished via helicopter -- a dangerous proposition since
there is still thought to be up to four SL elements holding
the high ground above the government soldiers.

-- It is unclear if SL was able to recover the two
crew-served weapons (7.62 mm MAGs) and belts of ammunition
that were onboard the downed MI-17 helicopter.

-- We understand that the FAP and Army (EP) currently have no
more than five mission-capable MI-17s. None of these craft
are armored or configured as gunships.

-- Should the GOP security forces decide to persist in the
area, they will have to locate the enemy and then "shoot,
move and communicate" to prevent any other helicopters from
being shot down.

Political Ramifications:
------------------------
5. (C) Prominent political leaders publicly called for the
US to assist in the rescue operation. (Embassy assistance to
the rescue operation was limited to providing appropriate
recent satellite imagery, though the density of triple-canopy
jungle makes this imagery of limited use.) Police Director
General Manuel Hidalgo also inquired about the possible use
of NAS helicopters for the evacuation. We informed him that
altitude, weather and hostile conditions precluded the use of
NAS' UH-IIs for the mission. APRA Congressman (and former
President of Congress and the Congressional Defense
Committee) Luis Gonzales Posada remarked on September 3 that
Peru was being "abandoned by international cooperation" in
its fight against terrorism and narcotrafficking. Earlier in
the week, Defense Minister Rafael Rey made a similar remark,
saying it was a shame Peru did not have U.S. assistance in
the VRAE. Rey later backed off from some of his statements
in light of the Colombia DCA controversy that took place at
the Bariloche UNASUR meeting of presidents.

Comment: Another Wake-up Call?
------------------------------
6. (C) This incident illustrates once again the Peruvian
military's shortcomings in confronting the remnants of
Sendero Luminoso in the VRAE. To date, there has been little
indication that the GOP can be serious about investing
greater resources in the VRAE. The immediate
finger-pointing, whether aimed at us or at Peruvian political
actors, hampers the political debate and leaves the issues
unresolved until the next bloody skirmish. We have attempted
to assist the GOP in identifying and defining workable
solutions, and will continue to do so. End Comment.
MCKINLEY