In 1991, one of the world’s most prolific drug traffickers fled Colombia to Bolivia where he went into hiding. A team of Bolivian Leopardos with American advisors from the DEA and Navy SEALs raided the ranch house at the CIA’s request. After making entry, they found cups of coffee on the table that were still warm. The counter-narcotics team had just missed the notorious Colombian drug lord named Pablo Escobar.
From a foreign policy standpoint, pressure was building within the United States government to capture Escobar, a man who has since been glorified and entered into mythology with the help of folks song, movies, and even a Netflix series. Special Operations Command-South was involved in planning a number of capture/kill missions that targeted Escobar after the raid in Bolivia forced him back into Colombia. On several occasions JSOC launched personnel, logistics, and assets into Colombia only to result in mission failure.
Delta Force commander Jerry Boykin describes the hunt for Pablo Escobar in his memoir, a mission called Operation Heavy Shadow. The White House approved the mission and General Bill Garrison called down to Boykin at Delta. “I want you to go down there,” Garrison said. “Select a few folks to take with you. Keep it small,” (Boykin, 229). Boykin chose Squadron Leader LTC Gary Harrell and operators SFC Joe Vega, and SFC Tony Mafnas. Harrell also selected Sergeant Major Jack Alvarez to additionally be on the team.
Arriving in Colombia, Harrell and Alvarez went to conduct liaisons with the police, specifically “Search Bloc” which led the hunt for Escobar. From the beginning, Delta was supposed to be invisible and the operation would have to have a Colombian face to it. Meanwhile, Mafnas and Vega set up a sniper observation post overlooking the Medellin valley where Escobar was suspected to be located. Using their observation equipment, they could get visual confirmation of reports received by SIGINT platforms flying overhead.