Ecuador vows to crush gangs as attacks sow terror

Ecuador's armed forces were engaged in a brutal standoff with organized crime Thursday, deploying more than 22,400 soldiers to put down a campaign of terror waged by gangs that has claimed 16 lives.

With an armed presence on the streets, patrols by land, sea and air, random body and car searches, prison raids and the enforcement of a curfew, the government of President Daniel Noboa has vowed not to yield in its "war" with 22 criminal gangs.

"They wanted to instill fear, but they aroused our ire," Defense Minister Gian Carlo Loffredo said on social media.

"They believed they would subdue an entire country but forgot that the armed forces are trained for war."

Since Monday, drug cartels have been waging a bloody campaign of kidnappings and attacks in response to a government crackdown on organized crime, prompting Noboa to declare the country to be in a "state of war."

"Yield to evil: never!" the 36-year-old Noboa, in office since November, said in a video message broadcast on television Thursday. "Fight tirelessly: always!"

The U.S. State Department said Thursday that a top U.S. military officer and senior officials will travel to Ecuador "in the coming weeks" to bolster Noboa's fight.

The small South American country has been plunged into crisis after years of growing control by transnational cartels that use its ports to ship cocaine to the United States and Europe.

Criminal gangs in the country of about 17 million people are thought to have more than 20,000 members.

The latest outburst of violence was sparked by the discovery Sunday of the prison escape of one of the country's most powerful narco bosses, Jose Adolfo Macias, known by the alias "Fito."

On Monday, Noboa imposed a state of...

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