April 19, 2014


Monday, December 23, 2013

US secretly helping Colombian FARC fight

US President Barack Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, pictured in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.
By David Biller
Bloomberg news
Classified CIA programme, NSA intel, has aided killing of at least dozen rebel leaders

WASHINGTON — The 50-year-old Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), once considered the best-funded insurgency in the world, is at its smallest and most vulnerable state in decades, due in part to a CIA covert action programme that has helped Colombian forces kill at least two dozen rebel leaders, according to interviews with more than 30 former and current US and Colombian officials.
The secret assistance, which also includes substantial eavesdropping help from the National Security Agency (NSA), is funded through a multibillion-dollar black budget. It is not a part of the public US$9-billion package of mostly US military aid called “Plan Colombia,” which began in 2000.
The previously undisclosed CIA programme was authorized by then-President George W. Bush in the early 2000s and has continued under President Barack Obama, according to US military, intelligence and diplomatic officials. Most of those interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity because the programme is classified and ongoing.
The covert programme in Colombia provides two essential services to the nation’s battle against the FARC and a smaller insurgent group, the National Liberation Army (ELN): real-time intelligence that allows Colombian forces to hunt down individual FARC leaders and, beginning in 2006, one particularly effective tool with which to kill them.
That weapon is a US$30,000 GPS guidance kit that transforms a less-than-accurate 500-pound gravity bomb into a highly accurate smart bomb. Smart bombs, also called precision-guided munitions or PGMs, are capable of killing an individual in triple-canopy jungle if his exact location can be determined and geo-coordinates are programmed into the bomb’s small computer brain.
In March 2008, according to nine US and Colombian officials, the Colombian Air Force, with tacit US approval, launched US-made smart bombs across the border into Ecuador to kill a senior FARC leader, Raul Reyes. The indirect US role in that attack has not been previously disclosed.
The covert action programme in Colombia is one of a handful of enhanced intelligence initiatives that has escaped public notice since the September 11, 2001, attacks. Most of these other programmes, small but growing, are located in countries where violent drug cartels have caused instability.
The roster is headed by Mexico, where US intelligence assistance is larger than anywhere outside Afghanistan, as The Washington Post reported in April. It also includes Central America and West Africa, where trafficking routes have moved in response to US pressure against cartels elsewhere.

Asked to comment on US intelligence assistance, President Juan Manuel Santos told Post during a recent trip to Washington that he did not wish to speak about it in detail, given the sensitivities involved. “It’s been of help,” he said. “Part of the expertise and the efficiency of our operations and our special operations have been the product of better training and knowledge we have acquired from many countries, among them the United States.”
A spokesman for the CIA declined to comment.
Colombia and the FARC have been in peace negotiations in Havana for a year. They have agreed so far on frameworks for land reform, rural development and for allowing insurgents to participate in the political process once the war ends. The two sides are currently discussing a new approach to fighting drug-trafficking.
Today, a comparison between Colombia, with its vibrant economy and swanky Bogotá social scene, and Afghanistan might seem absurd. But a little more than a decade ago, Colombia had the highest murder rate in the world.
Random bombings and strong-arm military tactics pervaded daily life. Some 3,000 people were kidnapped in one year. Professors, human rights activists and journalists suspected of being FARC sympathizers routinely turned up dead. Nearly a quarter-million people have died during the long war, and many thousands have disappeared.
By 2000, the emboldened insurgency of 18,000 took aim at Colombia’s political leaders. It assassinated local elected officials. It kidnapped a presidential candidate and attempted to kill a presidential frontrunner, hardliner Alvaro Uribe, whose father the FARC had killed in 1983. Fearing Colombia would become a failed state with an even greater role in drug-trafficking into the US the Bush administration and Congress ramped up assistance to the Colombian military through Plan Colombia.
By 2003, US involvement in Colombia encompassed 40 agencies and 4,500 people, including contractors, all working out of the US Embassy in Bogotá, then the largest US embassy in the world.
“There is no country, including Afghanistan, where we had more going on,” said William Wood, who was US ambassador to Colombia from 2003 to 2007.
When Bush became president, two presidential findings were already on the books authorizing covert action worldwide. One allowed CIA operations against international terrorist organizations. The other, signed in the mid-1980s by President Ronald Reagan, authorized action against international narcotics traffickers.
Under the Colombian programme, the CIA is not allowed to participate directly in operations. The same restrictions apply to military involvement in Plan Colombia. The new covert push against the FARC unofficially began on February 13, 2003. By then, the US had already declared the FARC a terrorist organization.
President Santos, who was defense minister under Uribe, has greatly increased the pace of operations against the FARC. Almost three times as many rebel leaders — 47 versus 16 — have been killed under Santos as under Uribe.
Interviews and analysis of government websites and press reporting show that at least 23 of the attacks under Santos were air operations. Smart bombs were used only against the most important FARC leaders, Colombian officials said in response to questions. Gravity bombs were used in the other cases.
The FARC still mounts attacks but it no longer travels in large groups. The weariness of 50 years of transient jungle life has taken its toll. Peace negotiations, Santos has said, are the result of the successful military campaign.
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