In this Strafor article Colby Martin discusses the new Colombian military operations against the FARC rebels and criminal gangs operating in the hinterlands. He explains the history of the conflict, and the major tactical adjustments both sides have made in reaction to each other.
The beginning of the article is excerpted below, you can follow the link at the end of the excerpt to read the entire piece.
The article reminded me of the film Pantaleon y las Visitadoras. That film is set in Peru, but in it Angie Cepeda, who is Colombian, plays the pivotal role of a whore named La Columbiana and so, after my usual in-depth research and soul-searching she gets the honors for this article.
The film revolves around Captain Panteleon Pantoja, who is a competent, happily married and 'by the books' Peruvian army officer assigned the duty of managing a floating whore house on the Amazon for remote Peruvian garrisons. The sultry La Columbiana and a corrupt radio host drive the plot of this dark comedy.
Ms. Cepeda started her acting career in beer commercials, and moved on to Latin Soap Operas and eventually film. She's been successful in each of her moves and is a popular and flourishing Colombian actress.
Colombia's New Counterinsurgency Plan
By Colby Martin, March 29, 2012
Colombian security forces attacked a camp belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on March 26 in Vistahermosa, Meta department, killing 36 members of the guerrilla group and capturing three. The operation, which Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said resulted in the deaths of more FARC members than any other single strike in the 50-year-long conflict between the Colombian government and Marxist guerrilla groups, came shortly after a similar action in Arauca state in which 33 FARC members were killed and 12 were captured.
The operations were launched as part of an aggressive new Colombian counterinsurgency strategy dubbed Operation Espada de Honor ("Sword of Honor"), created in response to the increasing violent activity by the country's guerrilla groups. The plan expands the list of targets for security forces and the locations where they will engage guerrillas, with the goal of crippling the FARC both militarily and financially.
Espada de Honor is the latest of several plans by the Colombian government to combat militancy in the country. To fully understand the plan and its implications, it is helpful to examine the nature of Colombia's guerrilla groups, previous government counterinsurgency strategies and how the FARC has reacted to them.
Limitations to Colombian Security
Colombia's central government has never been able to control all of its territory. The Magdalena River Valley represents the heart of the country, where -- along with the cities of Bogota, Medellin and Cali -- most of the country's population lives. It is isolated from the rest of the country by Andes mountain ranges on either side. Outside the heartland is a combination of jungles, mountains and plains, largely uninhabited with limited infrastructure development.
Even with U.S. military aid, the logistical challenges involved in projecting power into Colombia's hinterlands make extended deployments unsustainable. Military operations outside the core have never been able to establish the security conditions needed to permit effective law enforcement on a large scale or for a significant period of time. The Colombian state is thus largely absent from the hinterlands, and the economic inequality in these regions is severe, giving rise to criminal organizations and insurgent groups.
This would not be a point of contention if not for the fact that the regions outside Colombia's core are rich in extractive resources such as oil, gold, precious stones, and rare earth elements -- as well as marijuana, coca and opium poppies. The state and insurgent and criminal groups are in competition for these resources, and the state is trying to secure the regions, regardless of limitations. Because the government lacks the resources to properly address the underlying issues of lack of development and inequality, eliminating insurgent groups is almost impossible. Instead, the government must concentrate on inhibiting their ability to operate and attempt to secure its interests as it seeks ways to improve conditions in the countryside.
Colombia has been in conflict since its creation as a republic in 1819. In the past 50 years, the conflict has centered on Marxist insurgences and the cocaine trade. Each new government plan to deal with these insurgencies has evolved from previous plans, though since the late 1990s, its strategies have been increasingly based on U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine.
In the late 1990s, President Andres Pastrana attempted to peacefully resolve the conflict with the FARC. Under Plan Colombia, Pastrana asked the United States, Europe and others for aid, both to combat the FARC and other insurgent groups and to address poverty and the lack of development in Colombia, issues he considered the underlying causes of the insurgency. This was intended to be coupled with peace negotiations in a demilitarized zone in San Vicente del Caguan, Caqueta department.
However, the plan that was actually implemented in 2000 focused much more on drug eradication and counterinsurgency than on development.
Nearly 80 percent of counterinsurgency funding, all of which came from the United States (which has spent nearly $7 billion in Colombia since 2000), went to the Colombian military and police, while developmental aid from other countries never fully materialized. Peace talks failed, the military moved into the demilitarized zone and the conflict escalated. Security operations were focused on the southern and eastern areas of Colombia, which were considered strongholds of the FARC and, not coincidentally, two of the main coca-producing regions in Colombia.
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