General Luis Fernando Navarro said that the accused individuals had left the military between about 2002 and 2018, and that they were involved in “mercenary activities” with “purely economic” motives.
It is not clear whether the individuals recruited for the operation knew the specifics of the task they were being assigned, according to John Marulanda, the head of the association for retired military officials.
The idea that people would sign up for such a risky operation “doesn’t make sense, from a military perspective,” Mr. Marulanda said.
Paul Angelo, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies security issues, said that Colombians had a history of being recruited into criminal tasks because they sometimes had limited options once they left the armed forces.
“Colombia is a country that for far too long had military conscription, which fell on the shoulders of the poorest men in the country,” he said. “When an economic underclass is taught how to fight and how to conduct military operations and little else, those skills don’t transfer readily to the civilian sector except in the private security realm.”
A former officer in Colombia’s army, who asked not to be identified, said that a mercenary who traveled abroad could easily be paid about $2,700 a month, compared with a military salary of about $300 a month — even for soldiers with years of combat experience.
“It’s not just Haiti, it’s Kabul, Mexico, Yemen, Emirates,” he said in a telephone interview, listing where former Colombian soldiers have gone.
Reporting was contributed from Colombia by Sofía Villamil in Cartagena and Edinson Bolaños in Bogotá.