LATIN AMERICA: Colombia’s Battle with Insurgents, Drug Lords

May 9, 2013 at 6:14 pm Leave a comment

Colombian Comeback

Colombia is back in the news.

(CIA World Factbook)

(CIA World Factbook)

Vice President Joe Biden has announced that he is going to visit Colombia during a Latin America trip later this month. The trip, which is slated to begin the week of May 26, will include visits to Brazil and the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago.

“In Colombia, the vice president will meet with President [Juan Manuel] Santos to build on security relations and focus on ways to further the prosperity of our two countries,” the White House announced.

It was the latest development in the increasing cooperation between the United States and Colombia.

Last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with his Colombian counterpart – Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon – to discuss the security partnership between the two countries. Speaking later at the National Defense University’s Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, Pinzon said ““Today, the average Colombian citizen lists street crime as a greater threat than terrorism.” Pinzón said, noting how far Colombia has come from the height of its nearly 50-year Marxist insurgency, when more than four terrorist attacks a day occurred.

For the last two decades the insurgency by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known by its Spanish acronym FARC, has been fueled by narcotics trafficking, according to the CIA.

At the height of the insurgency, 20-30 years ago, Colombia was “nearly a failed state,” Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly told a recent conference on transnational organized crime. But in the years since, said Kelly – the head of U.S. Southern Command – Colombia has done a “tremendous job” battling both the FARC and narcotics cartels — while reforming its military and legal system. “And they’ve done this almost entirely by themselves,” with relatively limited military assistance from the United States, Kelly said. “Once they stick a fork in the FARC, they’ll be even more effective in taking cocaine off the market,” Kelly told the gathering in Alexandria, Virginia, sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement.

At an earlier IDGA conference on countering-improvised explosives devices, one speaker was a Colombian Army officer who described the skill in dealing with booby traps and roadside bombs that his military has developed during almost 50 years battling a Marxist insurgency. Colombia is considered second only to Afghanistan for the number IED attacks within its borders.

Defense Secretary greets Columbia's Minister of Defense Juan Carlos Pinzon at the Pentagon May 1, 2013. (Defense Dept. photo by Sgt. Aaron Hostutler, U.S. Marine Corps.)

Defense Secretary greets Columbia’s Minister of Defense Juan Carlos Pinzon at the Pentagon May 1, 2013. (Defense Dept. photo by Sgt. Aaron Hostutler, U.S. Marine Corps.)

Meanwhile, a panel of Latin American experts on Colombia’s counter insurgency opined that the “military-centered approach has been good but not sufficient enough” to deal with problems within its borders and across the region. In a March panel discussion at George Washington University,  experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Strategic Studies Institute and the National Defense University, cited the need for politicians and bureaucrats to show a governmental presence in rural areas once controlled by the rebels, the need for the military to coordinate operations with analysis of how FARC had changed tactics and areas of operation; and provide security and stability while dealing with new types of battlefields. Here’s a Synopsis

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Entry filed under: Counter Insurgency, Counter Terrorism, International Crime, Latin America, Lessons Learned, National Security and Defense, Unconventional Warfare. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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