Six Colombian Soldiers Killed in Action While Fighting ELN

Trent Barr
Trent Barr
Trent has years of experience and training in open source intelligence gathering and journalism. He specializes in Latin American, German, and Vatican affairs, with a broader interest in European politics. Trent serves as the Latin America Desk Chief for Atlas News.

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Six Colombian soldiers were killed while engaged in combat with members of the National Liberation Army (ELN) on Thursday amid heightened tensions with the group following a breakdown of peace talks with the national representatives of the armed group.

Operations Against Narco-Terrorism

Combat began near Valdivia, Antioquia, where the soldiers were killed after entering a minefield while repositioning to confront the leftist insurgents; four other soldiers were wounded following the detonation of the mines. The unit the soldiers belonged to, the Croatia-4 platoon under the Earth Operations Battalion 24, had previously been engaged in combat with members of the narco-terrorist criminal organization Clan del Golfo, also known as the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC), and succeeded in weakening the criminal organization in the region.

“The death of six soldiers in a minefield in Valdivia, Antioquia, is regrettable. More young people killed in the war of greed.. my heartfelt condolences to their families of decent Colombians,” President Gustavo Petro said in a statement published on X.

Following the deaths of the soldiers, the Colombian military mobilized airborne units to extract those killed and injured and return them to safety.

The attack against soldiers comes amid the increased presence of ELN fighters across the Pan-American Highway, where civilians have reported armed units patrolling the longest highway in the world reaching from Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina. Aside from an increase in presence, fighters have installed banners, flags, and spray-painted graffiti on various structures around the highway. The group is also believed to be responsible for a supposed booby-trapped flag on a bridge leading to a Masivo Integrado de Occidente station, a bus transit system that serves the capital of Valle de Cauca and is the main form of transport for civilians living there.

Members of the ELN in the jungles of Colombia. (Photo – Raul Arboleda/AFP)

While the flag was found to not be booby-trapped, the installation of the flag has led analysts to suggest the ELN is increasing its presence in urban centers of Colombia, jeopardizing security for millions living in cities across the country.

Following the killing of the soldiers, the governor of Antioquia, Andrés Julián Rendón, demanded that Petro dissolve ceasefires with armed groups across the country.

“End of the ceasefire NOW! The macabre alliance between the ELN and the FARC dissidents today has Antioquia and the country in mourning: six soldiers killed and four injured when they fell into a minefield in the rural area of ??Valdivia. My condolences to their families and a message of solidarity to every soldier in Colombia,” the governor said in a statement on X.

While the Colombian government does not have a ceasefire with the ELN, a temporary ceasefire was arranged with a splinter faction of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia known as the Second Marquetalia on Saturday. These peace talks were reportedly not intended to achieve a full disarmament of the Second Marquetalia, but to achieve a “de-escalation of violence in the territories where they [Second Marquetalia] operate,” according to Otty Patino, Colombia’s High Commissioner for Peace. Armando Novoa, who led Colombia’s peace delegation, told Reuters that the government hopes to arrange a long-term peace deal before Petro leaves office in 2026.

Luciano Marín Arango (center), also known as “Iván Márquez,” the leader of Second Marquetalia and head of the group’s delegation in the peace talks. (Photo – EPA/Shuttershock)

The Colombian government has been engaged in sporadic negotiations with the ELN for years, with Petro himself managing to secure a ceasefire between the armed group and the government shortly after he took office in 2022. Talks have recently stalled, however, following the government’s decision to enter talks with the ELN’s Narino front outside of the national representatives for the armed group, a move the national leadership ultimately rejected. The government defended its decision, accusing the ELN of dragging its feet in regard to establishing a long-term ceasefire with the end goal of total disarmament and disbandment.

The ELN, on the other hand, has claimed the Nariño front is in reality a part of the government’s plan to target the group’s command structure in one of the group’s publications, Insurreccion 947. The group claims that the peace talks with the Narino front have only matured due to the supposed government agent’s failure to target core leadership of the ELN.

Furthermore, the publication states that this issue was brought up by the organization’s official negotiators at meetings with the Colombian government but were ultimately ignored, resulting in the ELN leaving the talks.

Those killed in action. (Photo – X/Ivan_Velasquez_)

“Now, activating the supposed ‘dissidence,’ the government has given priority to said setup, relegating the official Roundtable with the ELN and therefore confirming that its priority is to hold peace dialogue with its own intelligence agents,” the publication stated.

The death of the six soldiers showcases the ever-increasing tensions between the government and armed groups active within Colombia and significantly harms President Petro’s plan to bring “total peace” to Colombia as chances of securing a ceasefire, temporary or not, with the ELN seem to be slipping away.