Rionegro Escalation 2013 – After Action Report

This is an extract from a UN report into the loss of the UN Forward Base “Zulu” near Las Cureñas Rionegro in August of last year. The full report is confidential, but the following section from the executive summary was leaked in the media after being found in a dumpster outside a UN building.

[Extract Begins]
..leading to a significant escalation. By 12:00 the long expected invasion of Rionegro by the Domiguan army was under way. North West of the encircled town of San Esteban the Domiguan 2nd Airborne had massed to carry out a helicopter assault behind Republicano defensive lines near the village of Las Cureñas. Their objective was to bring supplies to the besieged Patriota Heavies within San Estaban. Opposing them were Republicano forces made up of the 25th Presidential Light Infantry and the IVth International Brigade who were moving to take up position near the village.
Earlier that day a UN pilot had been shot down in the area near Las Cureñas. It was decided to deploy a UN force to recover the pilot, and to attempt to arrest war criminals known to be serving with the Patriota and Republicano forces. A significant prize would also be the notorious war criminal Jose Gallardo, known as “The Butcher” who was rumoured to be in the area.

The Domiguan 2nd Airborne took advantage of gaps in the no-fly zone to launch their airborne assault near Las Cureñas. Inexperienced and panicky pilots missed their designated landing zones and scattered the Domiguan troops. For the next hour they were arriving on foot in small groups at their rendezvous position, Bunker Argentina”. This bunker was still in the hands of the Republicanos and they mounted a solid defence of it. The piecemeal arrival of Domiguan forces prevented them from amassing overwhelming force to take the Bunker. However the reinforcements the Republicano defenders expected never come, and they were fatally weakened by the absence of a medic. Once Domiguan command elements arrived they organised a co-ordinated assault which took the objective. The Domiguans then established a perimeter and set up their forward operating base within Bunker Argentina.

map02There are indications that just prior to the Domiguans airborne assault a small special ops force had deployed to the same area by helicopter. This well equipped group would have numbered no more than 10 people. It is believed they quickly moved off to hide in the forests but it has not been possible to confirm their identities or national origin.

While the assault on Bunker Argentina was happening the Republicanos had completed their move to their new base south of Las Cureñas and the Patriota Heavies took up position east of Hill 143. The UN Forces deployed by vehicle to Base “Zulu”, east of the village. While it was being secured, a search party set out to recover the downed pilot who was also being sought by the Domiguans and Republicanos. Several of their search parties came close to him, but he was able to remain concealed in the dense woods until the UN troops made contact and carried out an incident free pick up.

Domiguan 2nd Airborne commander considers his tactical options.

Domiguan 2nd Airborne commander considers his tactical options.

A group of the Republicano Secret Police the “Oficina de Seguridad del Estado de Rionegro” or OSER, had been attached to the 25th light Infantry, with the responsibility of locating the war criminal known as “The Butcher”. An unsuccessful attempt was made by a Patriota soldier to infiltrate the Republicano base. He was quickly identified, captured, and handed over to the OSER, who carried out an interrogation and then executed him. This is their typical behaviour. Shortly afterwards the OSER began their search for the Butcher in Las Cureñas, making contact with the villagers and offering money to repair the church roof in an attempt to generate some goodwill. This was not their typical behaviour.


The first supply convoy after being intercepted by the UN.

The first supply convoy after being intercepted by the UN.

By the middle of the afternoon there had been several other clashes with the Republicanos, but elements of the Domiguan Airborne and the Patriota Heavies had made contact. An attempt then was made to push through a resupply convoy north of Hill 142. Three vehicles loaded with supplies departed from Bunker Argentina. They were intercepted by the UN who identified that some of the supply barrels had been stolen from a refugee relief centre. The UN moved to confiscate these, and as Domiguan standing orders were not to challenge the UN, they did not object. The reduced convoy, manned with Domiguan and Patriota troops made it to the Patriota base where it then came under attack by Republicano forces. The lead vehicle was hit by a 40m grenade and destroyed. Few if any of the supplies made it through to the besieged forces.

Domiguan Airborne on the move.

Domiguan Airborne on the move.

The Domiguans were active for the rest of the afternoon to bolster their position. A group secured the summit of Hill 143 and attempted to set up a communications relay. There were unable to get it to work though and withdrew. More soldiers visited Las Cureñas to provide some humanitarian supplies to the villagers and assure them that they were not to be regarded as “invaders”. Afterwards they hosted a return visit from the local priest and some villagers. However these civilians came under fire from an unknown group when returning to Las Cureñas and most of them were killed. This was a common feature to the fighting – soldiers and civilians came under attack and often it is was not clear who was responsible.

The Republicano OSER had a contact in the Domiguan Airborne, who actually was working as a double agent. The Domiguans attempted to set up a double cross to capture one of the OSER officers. They provided a tip off to the OSER that there was a Domiguan commander in Las Cureñas. However the OSER, backed by a section from the 25th Light Infantry raided the village, and captured the commander as well as the double agent. The OSER carried out an interrogation and then executed them. OSER personnel were supported by Republicano troops for “Patriota” hunts, which captured a number of prisoners. A shortage of transport meant they could not all be repatriated. So the OSER had some of the prisoners executed on the spot. The remainder were brought to the Republicano base where they were interrogated, and then executed. The Heavies picked up an unidentified captive as well. The prisoner was not from the Republicanos or the UN but interrogation didn’t reveal his origin. He made a determined attempt to break free before being shot while trying to escape.

The UN searches for war criminals in Rionegro.

The UN searches for war criminals in Rionegro.

The UN carried out a number of probes across the area to try and gather information on war criminal suspects, including the Butcher. Tensions built with both factions. The UN were perceived to be harassing these forces, and carrying out covert reconnaissance. Early in the evening the UN arrested their first suspect, and the word quickly spread as to their real mission. This eroded the limited trust there was in their impartiality and more and more the UN found themselves being obstructed when trying to move around the area.

After the failure of the first resupply convoy the Domiguan-Patriota command planned a second one, taking a route south west of the Republicano base. Key to this was taking control of the ruined sugar factory. The road and factory were close to the Republicano base, so success would need a synchronized push from two directions. Unfortunately communications between the Domiguan and Patriota forces were difficult, and this hampered co-ordination of the attacks.

The battle for the sugar factory, watched by the world's media.

The battle for the sugar factory, watched by the world’s media.

The Heavies attacked from the east around 1800, and quickly managed to take the sugar factory. The supporting Domiguan attack from the west was delayed though. This gave the Republicanos time to launch a major counter attack on the Sugar Factory supported by vehicles. Several sections of heavies mounted a determined defence of the position against much larger numbers of Republicanos. Without the Domiguan support though they were eventually forced out. The Republicanos then turned to face the Domiguan forces who had only begun to move after 1900. There was further heavy fighting in the more open ground to the west of the Republicano base. The Domiguans were unable to break through with the supply vehicles, and having taken heavy casualties eventually withdrew.

Late in the evening two of the civilians from Las Cureñas went to work for the Domiguans as runners and spotters. At some point during night they were captured and killed. The belief in the village was that this was the work of UN personnel, which soured relations between the UN and the civilians.

The Domiguans decided to carry out an attack on the UN base during the night with the support of the Heavies in order to recover some of the supplies that had been confiscated earlier in the day. Communications issues again hampered coordination of the attack, and the two separate groups moved at different times. The UN had a strong defensive position in their Zulu base, with plenty of hard cover, twin support guns mounted on the Landrover, and vehicle spotlights, as well as limited avenues for hostiles to use to approach. Despite being outnumbered they were able to hold off the Domiguans. A small force of Heavies had moved up to support the attack. However because of a misunderstanding they were ambushed by the Domiguans who had not expected reinforcements to arrive from behind them. It is likely that this incident, compounded by the communications difficulties, and the failure of the attack on the sugar factory were putting increasing strain on the Heavies trust in the Domiguans. This would have significant consequences on the Sunday.

The Domiguans attack on the UN was not the only one that night. At least 5 other attacks were mounted, though the UN troops often could not identify who was behind them. Despite getting little rest and having limited numbers, the UN’s stout defence meant their perimeter was not breached.

Away from the UN’s base there was a general winding down of fighting overnight, though many minor actions did occur. The biggest of these was a direct attack on the Republicano base by a small group supported by some Heavies. The exact identity of the group is not clear, and neither is their objective in carrying out the attack. It is possible that this was the small special operations team that is believed to have been air dropped to the area at the start of the battle. The Republicanos took a number of casualties, including the OSER agent in his underwear who had been trying to organise a defence of the base.


A UN soldier sleeps where he can after a night spent fending off attacks.

A UN soldier sleeps where he can after a night spent fending off attacks.

Little progress had been made by any group in locating Jose Gallardo (“The Butcher”) at this time. Within the Republicanos the OSER had received intelligence that he was working as a sniper. So the OSER agents began to execute all Republicano snipers. One of these resisted and detonated a grenade which killed 5 other Republicanos, and shortly afterwards an OSER agent was shot in the back by one of his own side. The OSER them extended their brutal search to Las Cureñas where they started to torture and execute civilians in a search for information. Surprisingly, despite reports that the Patriotas were offering bounties for the execution of OSER agents there are no reports of any being killed by soldiers other than from their own side.

One of the few people who did know the identify and whereabouts of “The Butcher” was his cousin the local priest – Padre Esteban Bautista de Leon. Gallardo who was in hiding within the Domiguan Airborne appears to have decided that he could not risk being exposed by Padre Esteban and on a visit to the village attempted to kill him. A Domiguan Airborne officer intervened in time to save the priest’s life and had Gallardo arrested. A kangaroo court was held and the notorious butcher was executed in the village after confessing his identify.

UNs wall of war criminals.

UNs wall of war criminal suspect photos.

Around this time the UN made an attempt to arrest the 4 known war criminal suspects in the Heavies base. The UN vehicles were stopped at a checkpoint on the edge of the base and tried to talk their way in. The delay allowed the Heavies to bring up more men and when the shooting started the UN took a beating. One UN vehicle was captured, the UN’s special representative was shot, and UN prisoners were summarily executed.

Grateful to them for saving his life Father Esteban attempted to get the warring factions to reconcile. He planned a mass for peace in the village and got the Republicanos and Domiguans to agree to a ceasefire so their soldiers could attend. This was scheduled for 0900 and neither side knew what to expect. The Republicanos moved out in force, established a rally point on the edge of Las Cureñas and then sent their overall commander in with an escort. The Domiguans were delayed because of trouble with the UN at their base. The situation at the church was very tense, with the Domiguans and Republicanos both expecting a double cross. Each side had disarmed but guns and reinforcements were close to hand. The service kicked off at 1100 and everyone agreed it was a lovely mass.

Following the ceremony the two opposing commanders had a meeting and frank discussion. They agreed that both were strongly opposed to the presence and involvement of the UN. They felt that the UN (30 men) was a major roadblock to the Republicanos and Domiguan-Patriota Alliance (200 men total) achieving their objectives. A plan was hatched to remove the UN or at least force them to remain in their camp.


Domiguan Airborne on the move.

A ceasefire was arranged, and a joint attack agreed for shortly after 1300 Unfortunately for the two commanders the Domiguan’s allies, the Patriota Heavies, had not been present and had to be informed by radio of the developments. They were suspicious of the reports of a ceasefire, and began to suspect they were being set up for a betrayal.

Rumours reached the UN of the meeting between the Republicanos and the Domiguans. A team was sent into the village with a UN Special Representative to investigate. The team radioed back with confirmation of the details of the deal. They reported they were returning but never arrived. Days later, after the battle, the bodies of the Special Representative and his UN escort were found in shallow graves outside Las They had all been shot at close range with a large calibre gun. Suspicion fell on the two men pretending to be reporters who had hijacked the UN’s Humvee that had been left at the edge of the village.

Knowing an attack was imminent, the UN forces began to prepare. They managed to make contact with the special operations team from a foreign power who were operating in the area. In exchange for IFF codes which would allow them to fly out of Rionegro they were to provide support to the UN. However the spec ops team quickly betrayed the UN and left with the codes before the final battle started*. Unable to evacuate their men in time the UN arranged to provide artillery support and the forces on the ground prepared for the fight of their lives.

Around 14:00 an attempt was made by the Republicano Commander to get the UN to drop their guard by offering to hand over the body of Jose Gallardo. A suspicious UN took the body but didn’t relax. The Republicano Commander departed and at 14:15 the final attack on UN Base Zulu began. The UN got support from an unusual place though. Fearing a betrayal the Patriota Heavies began to attack their erstwhile allies. The confusion and casualties temporarily disrupted the attack on the UN. It didn’t last long though, and soon the 30 UN personnel found themselves under attack by around 150 troops. The volume of incoming fire knocked out the Landrover with its crucial twin support guns in the first few minutes of the attack. The attackers concentrated on the main entrance to the base and despite their losses made slow but steady progress to close on the base. Once they reached the outer walls they were able to circle left and right and put more fire on the defenders inside. After that it was just a matter of time. Soon the base was breached and the attackers began to push inside. The UN had managed to hold the position for over 25 minutes, and caused very heavy casualties on their enemy before the final two defenders withdrew. Their account of the heroic defence of Zulu Base turned a disaster into a heroic stand – and got an investigation into possible cowardice and desertion under fire dropped.

The local Republicano and Domiguan forces had achieved their intention of smashing the local UN presence. But at what cost? Their actions created an international PR disaster for their governments, and did little to settle the fate of the besieged city of San Esteban. Only the Patriotas came out of the fiasco with something of their reputations. The story they spun was of honourable men who would rather fight alone than compromise and deal with their enemies (no mention of poor radio communications there).

The Special Operations team that double crossed the UN did not benefit from their betrayal. The UN forces in Camp Zulu were able to radio a cancelation for the stolen IFF code. Later that afternoon a helicopter using the invalid IFF was shot down for violating the re-imposed Rionegro no-fly zone. The damaged aircraft went down in dense jungle and the fate of the crew and passengers is unknown.

The civilians of Las Cureñas were probably the only ones to achieve a happy outcome. They had profited by selling supplies and equipment (like shovels and metal detectors) to all comers. As the attack on the UN was occurring they decided it was time to flee the area. They shot the middle man they had been dealing with, gathered as much of their possessions as they could and high tailed it out of the region. The $5,000 each they had wouldn’t buy passage to the US, but it would get them out of Rionegro and to somewhere safer.

2 Responses to “Rionegro Escalation 2013 – After Action Report”

  • Viva la Rionegro! says:

    Feels like an after action report for the UN rather than the entire Rionegro event.

    • sliabh says:

      It is a bit, but to be fair by Sunday morning the big factions had decided they were just focusing on the UN. And I would say that I put in what I get from the Unit Commanders and EMs. One or two units didn’t send me any information on their exploits (despite nagging) so there isn’t much I can do then.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Powered by WordPress and HQ Premium Themes.