A former Green Beret trained Venezuelan insurgents who clashed with government forces on Sunday

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Members of the special forces unit are seen at a shore, after Venezuela's government announced a failed "mercenary" incursion, in Macuto, Venezuela, May 3, 2020

Members of the special forces unit are seen at a shore, after Venezuela's government announced a failed "mercenary" incursion, in Macuto, Venezuela, May 3, 2020

Military insurgents whom the Nicolas Maduro regime claims were killed or detained on Sunday as they attempted to land on the Venezuelan coast belonged to one of several units trained by a decorated former U.S. Green Beret, leaders of the uprising said.

The 15-member team had planned to reach Caracas over the weekend to do reconnaissance for a larger force of 200 men distributed in several areas of the South American country, said former National Guard Capitan Javier Nieto, one of the leaders of the movement.

The insurgency plan, whose existence was first revealed by an AP investigation last week, aims to promote a democratic transition in Venezuela by capturing Maduro and other key members of his regime. Nieto and other dissident military officers familiar with the operation confirmed its details to el Nuevo Herald.

The Maduro regime announced Sunday that it had thwarted a “mercenary invasion” on fast boats as it reached the coastal town of Macuto, 34 kilometers north of Caracas, claiming to have killed eight of the insurgents and arrested the other two.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a news conference at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, March 12, 2020

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a news conference at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, March 12, 2020

The announcement, initially questioned by observers given the scant evidence presented and the regime’s long tradition of fabricating charges against dissidents, was confirmed on Sunday afternoon on a video recorded by Nieto and Jordan Goudreau, an American three-time Bronze Star recipient who served in the U.S. Army special forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“At 1700 hours a daring amphibious raid was launched from the border of Colombia to deep into the heart of Caracas. Our men are continuing to fight right now. Our units have been activated in the south, west and east of Venezuela,” said Goudreau on the video, in which Nieto announced the launching of what he called Operation Gideon.

Sources close to the situation said that Goudreau helped train the insurgents, mostly military personnel who broke ranks from Maduro’s armed forces and were living in Colombia.

Nieto told el Nuevo Herald that the movement does not plan to fight against the Venezuelan armed forces, but to capture the top leaders of the Venezuelan regime accused by U.S. prosecutors of also heading the De los Soles drug cartel.

“This is not a conventional war. It is an operation with specific objectives,” Nieto said. “Our enemies are not the Venezuelan Armed Forces nor the country. Our enemies are the cartel, the colectivos (Maduro’s paramilitary units), the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) and the Fuerzas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).”

Both Colombian leftists guerrilla groups, the FARC and the ELN, control vast areas of Venezuela and are partners of the regime in drug trafficking and gold and mineral smuggling operations.

Nieto, who resides in the United States, confirmed that the recon unit intercepted in Venezuela was led by National Guard Captain Robert Levid Colina Ibarra, coded named “Pantera”, as initially reported by Diosdado Cabello, the senior Venezuelan leader suspected of being one of the top cartel leaders.

Cabello said that Pantera had been killed, but Nieto said he has not received any confirmation of this.

“He could have been detained and it is possible that he is being tortured right now, or it could be that they tortured him, went overboard and ended up killing him, like it has happened in the past, or it could be they just executed him,” Nieoto said “But what is know for certain is that he is missing.”

©2020 Miami Herald - Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.