Since the beginning of Plan Colombia in 2000, the United States military intervention in Colombia has not decreased, in spite of the 50% budget cut from $620 million at the end of President George Bush's administration to $336 million this fiscal year.
Recently, Generals David Patraeus, the current director of the CIA, and Stanley McCrystal, former commander of Joint Special Operations in Iraq and an expert on counterinsurgency, have started advising Colombia on a new strategy, which I have blogged some time ago.
The United States has played a crucial role during the last decade in redressing the balance of forces that by the late 1990s was shifting towards the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). Now, the U.S. is playing a pivotal role in halting the FARC “Rebirth Strategy” that was launched in 2008. This strategy allowed the FARC to retake the military initiative in the departments of Cauca and Nariño, launching an attack of nearly 100 insurgents against the radar base in Cerro de Santa Ana, Cauca in January. This attack disrupted air traffic, including military air operations.
Although, the “high target value” strategy successfully killed some important FARC leaders such as Raul Reyes, Mono Jojoy, and Alfonso Cano, it did not cripple the movement. Consequently, this new strategy is an adjustment designed to target more mid-level commanders who are critical to the FARC’s financial infrastructure.
Both Patraeus and McCrystal should, however, resolve U.S. military problems before ill advising the Colombian military on similar strategies. The counterinsurgency in Iraq and in Afghanistan were a failure, and the insurgencies in both countries are still well and alive despite the target assassinations of Special Forces. We should note that the Special Forces under McCrystal are credited with killing the Al Qaeda leader Abu Mesab Al Zirquawi in Iraq, but it is still too early to draw any conclusions from that attack.
I only hope that Colombia’s political elite, and its military commanders, examine the latest news from Iraq and Afghanistan, which is showing that the military solution has failed. Consequently, the lesson is this: the shortest and most cost effective way to win this war is negotiation and incorporation of insurgents into the democratic process. Following this path towards peace will make Colombia more inclusive and just.