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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
04BOGOTA3872
2004-04-16 21:13:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Bogota
Cable title:  

A GENERAL OVERVIEW OF COLOMBIA'S SECURITY SITUATION

Tags:   PREL  PINR  ASEC  SNAR  PTER  CO 
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BOGOTA 003872 

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/16/2014
TAGS: PREL PINR ASEC SNAR PTER CO
SUBJECT: A GENERAL OVERVIEW OF COLOMBIA'S SECURITY SITUATION

Classified By: Ambassador William B. Wood, reasons 1.4 (b)
and (d).

-------
Summary
-------

1.(C) With USG assistance, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe
has made great strides in fighting drug trafficking and
terrorism. Uribe's hard-nosed security polices have
eliminated the National Liberation Army (ELN) as a military
threat, put the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)
on the defensive, and continued to pressure the United
Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and other paramilitary
groups in the midst of an on-going peace process. The
security forces have captured or killed key FARC leaders,
initiated a multi-phased, nationwide campaign to attack the
FARC in its rural strongholds, and reestablished a presence
in all the country's 1,098 municipalities. Inter-service and
civil-military cooperation, although imperfect, are growing.
Colombia's human rights situation is still poor, but has been
improving for the past several years. Three U.S. citizens
have been held hostage by the FARC for over a year now.
Their safe recovery continues to be one of our top
priorities. End Summary.



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U.S. ASSISTANCE TO COLOMBIA


--------------------------





2. (C) Colombian Minister of Defense (MOD) Jorge Alberto
Uribe has characterized U.S. assistance as key to the GOC's
"Democratic Security Policy" and acknowledges the U.S. as
Colombia's most important ally. Assistance to Colombia is
premised on combating the interrelated issues of drug
trafficking and terrorism and includes training, material
aid, and guidance to the security forces and other
institutions. For example, we provided guidance when the
Uribe administration developed Colombia's first-ever national
security strategy. We enjoy a close working relationship
with the Colombian security forces, especially with the MOD,
Armed Forces Commander General Carlos Alberto Ospina, Navy
Commander Admiral Mauricio Soto, Air Force Commander General
Edgardo Lesmez, and National Police Commander General Jorge
Daniel Castro.



--------------------------


Uribe is Showing Results


--------------------------





3. (SBU) Nearly 21 months into his four-year term, Colombian
President Alvaro Uribe has made the country safer and more
stable economically. Uribe's hard-nosed security policies
have put the FARC on the defensive, reduced the ELN to a
terrorist -- rather than a military -- threat, and continued
to militarily confront illegal paramilitaries in the midst of
an on-going peace process. Colombian military pressure has
cut terrorist attacks on vital infrastructure by nearly 25
percent, is depriving illegal armed groups of important drug
trafficking revenue (coca cultivation was down 21 percent in

2003), and is leading to a growing number of desertions from
all three terrorist groups. The military has enjoyed over 75
percent approval ratings since 2001 and Uribe himself enjoys
nearly 80 percent approval, which is higher than any other
Latin American leader.



4. (C) In late 2003, Uribe named a new military high command
and Defense Minister with an eye toward improving
civil-military and inter-service cooperation and rewarding
officers with a solid record of operational accomplishments.
Recently, the security forces have achieved some notable
successes:

-- Plan Patriota Moving Forward: The military's multi-phased
campaign to re-establish control over national territory and
cripple the FARC has entered its second major stage (2B), an
approximately 18 to 24 month-long phase to target
FARC-dominated regions in southeastern Colombia. General
Ospina is personally involved in Phase 2B operations.
Preparation, reconnaissance, and other important operations
have already begun. Nine mobile brigades, two infantry
divisions, two riverine task forces, two Air Combat Commands
(CACOM), and at least two brigade-equivalent special forces
units are devoted to this offensive phase. Progress is slow,
however, given the vastness of guerrilla-controlled
territory, the difficulty of the terrain, and the shortage of
air and water transport, plus the conservative fighting
tradition of the Colombian Armed Forces. Much of this area
has had little or no state presence for decades. During the
campaign's first phase (2A) in 2003, the military dealt the
FARC heavy blows in Cundinamarca department, which surrounds
Bogota, killing many important mid-level commanders and
destroying the FARC's 22nd Front and several special mobile
columns.

-- Key FARC Leaders Captured: On February 10, the Army
captured Nayibe Rojas (alias "Sonia"), chief of finances and
logistics for the FARC's Southern Bloc, who was wanted in
Colombia on drug trafficking charges and is under active
investigation by U.S. authorities. In early January,
Ecuadorian law enforcement authorities, in collaboration with
Colombian counterparts, arrested senior FARC commander
Ricardo Palmera (alias "Simon Trinidad") in Quito. Palmera
and Rojas are the two most senior FARC leaders ever to be
captured. Other important operations have been launched
against top FARC commanders, including Jorge Briceno (alias
"Mono Jojoy") and Tomas Medina (alias "Negro Acacio") -- in
the largest airborne operations ever conducted by the
Colombian military. Although these operations missed their
targets, they served as confidence builders for units using
intelligence-based plans to conduct operations deep in
FARC-controlled territory.

-- State Presence Established Nationwide: Upon taking office,
Uribe pledged to establish a permanent security force
presence in the 158 municipalities (equivalent to U.S.
counties) that lacked a military or police garrison. As of
January 4, all 1,098 municipalities had a police presence.
The USG facilitated this effort by training numerous police
units and building hardened police stations. The Uribe
administration will need to follow up this achievement with
social services in isolated communities.

-- In late 2002, the GOC initiated negotiations to demobilize
Colombia's largest illegal paramilitary organizations,
including the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC)
and Central Bolivar Bloc (BCB). In late 2003, over 1,000
paramilitaries demobilized and began reinserting into
civilian life in two mass demobilizations. Several larger
demobilizations are expected this year. We have urged the
GOC to establish clear roles for all agencies involved in the
demobilization process, including the Ministry of Defense,
which will be responsible for security in demobilization
zones and areas formerly controlled by paramilitaries, as
well as other aspects of the reinsertion process.
Paramilitary groups have not perfectly obeyed the requisite
cease-fire. For this reason, the security forces have
continued to confront paramilitaries militarily. At least 11
paramilitary field commanders have been captured since July.



5. (C) President Uribe, the MOD, and the High Command have
emphasized that inter-service and civil-military cooperation
and intelligence-based operations are key to success.
General Ospina has taken significant decisions to move the
Colombian military towards more joint operations, and Plan
Patriota's task force composition is a clear example of
jointness. Nevertheless, long-standing institutional
rivalries are an on-going challenge. Recently, two events
further dampened Police-Military relations and highlighted
communication problems: in March, an Army unit in Narino
Department killed several police officers. It remains
unclear what actually happened, and accusations have surfaced
that the police, military, or both may have been involved in
illegal activities and/or tried to manipulate evidence during
the ongoing investigation. In February, the FARC attempted
to commit a complex mass kidnapping in Neiva, Huila
department, that included a diversionary attack on an
isolated military outpost that left at least 12 soldiers
dead. A quick police response prevented most of the
kidnappings, but the Army failed to respond to either the
kidnappings or the five-hour siege of the military outpost.



--------------------------


GOC Generally Attuned to Human Rights


--------------------------





6. (C) The GOC maintains an active human rights dialogue with
international and national NGOs, as well as the United
Nations and foreign governments. Human rights training is
mandatory for all members of the military and police, and the
Embassy vets units that receive USG assistance. The State
Department 2003 Human Rights Report on Colombia (published in
March 2004) gave Colombia an overall rating of "poor," but
noted that GOC efforts to improve security had led to major
improvements in key human rights and violence indicators.
For example, homicides fell by 20 percent, kidnappings by 30
percent, and forced displacements by 49 percent in 2003.
Less than 2 percent of human rights violations are
attributable to government security forces. However, most
Colombian NGOs -- which generally lean to the left -- remain
severely critical of the GOC. Recent missteps by the armed
forces, such as the aforementioned police-military clash in
Narino and an accidental killing of a family of five by the
Army on April 10th, show there is still a need for further
improvement in respect for human rights by the security
forces.



--------------------------


FARC Continues to Hold U.S. Citizens Hostage


--------------------------





7. (C) In February 2002, a DOD plane carrying four USG
contractors and a Colombian military representative crashed
in FARC-controlled territory in southern Colombia. The FARC
killed one of the U.S. contractors and the Colombian and took
the other three U.S. citizens hostage. We believe they are
being held in a remote, heavily forested region the FARC has
long controlled and to which the Colombian military has
little or no access. Since the contractors were kidnapped,
we have worked closely with the GOC to track all leads that
could reveal their location. President Uribe has personally
pledged complete GOC cooperation and support in any effort to
rescue the hostages. As part of our efforts to secure their
recovery, we recently initiated the Rewards for Justice
Program, which offers up to USD five million in exchange for
information leading to the capture of FARC commanders or
other individuals involved in the kidnapping.
WOOD