RIO DE JANEIRO -- It's 9 a.m., and just a few uniformed Brazilian soldiers remain at a base camp in a crumbling Coca-Cola factory 20 minutes from Rio's international airport. Most of the 800 soldiers in this parachute brigade are already out on patrol.
That they've been stationed in the city -- in a cluster of favelas known as Complexo do Alemao that has been the scene of frequent drug battles and shootouts with police -- is highly unusual.
But it comes after an unprecedented series of events that reached a climax last month. As police continued a two-year campaign to crack down on lawlessness in a select group of the city's favelas -- or shantytowns -- gangs moved out of their home turf and began looting and burning vehicles across the city.
The state of Rio de Janeiro responded by calling in the army and Navy tanks after more than 100 taxis, cars and buses were stopped and set afire. Some 2,400 troops from Brazil's parachute brigade assisted in the favela offensive.
But starting this week, the military's role enters a new phase.
Police will answer to the military, and Brazil will place a new peacekeeping force in the sprawling northern favelas of Complexo do Alemao and Penha. Their mission will be similar to that carried out by the 1,300 Brazilian troops in Haiti and smaller forces in Sudan, East Timor and Nepal.
Essentially, they'll serve as an occupation force inside Brazil itself.
The plan is to put 2,000 soldiers on the streets daily and keep them there until October. In recent weeks, 800 soldiers have rotated in every third day.
While Brazil's hosting of the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics two years later might seem distant, the country knows it must deal with unbridled crime in the favelas now.
While some say bringing in the army is an extra tool to create order, critics say the strategy focuses on petty criminals rather than their bosses and still doesn't address the demand side of the drug trade.
"For we Brazilians, especially being from Rio, there's an emotional side in contributing to the security of our own country [in an area] that had been without intervention from the state for years,'' said Maj. Fabiano Lima de Carvalho, the parachute brigade's communications official.
About half of the troops in Complexo do Alemao and Penha have already done peacekeeping tours in Haiti, he said.
Military involvement in what has traditionally been a policing function began in late November after the vehicle attacks -- thought to be a backlash against a program that saturated favelas near wealthy areas and future sports venues with Pacification Police Units (UPPs) -- escalated.
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