Syndicated News from Colombia
Mon, 20 May 2013 18:39:22 GMT
Bill Clinton visits Colombia, Gabriel Garcia MarquezLos Angeles TimesFormer President Clinton visited Colombia last week, meeting with President Juan Manuel Santos and visiting Bogota, where Mayor Gustavo Petro showed him around the city in an electric taxi. Then Clinton took time out to visit with Nobel Prize-winning ...
Mon, 20 May 2013 17:51:47 GMT
Mon, 20 May 2013 19:16:23 GMT
Tue, 21 May 2013 02:13:21 GMT
Sun, 19 May 2013 21:48:44 GMT
Mon, 20 May 2013 23:40:19 GMT
Mon, 20 May 2013 22:56:24 GMT
Colombia aims to 'internationalize' bourseReutersPresident of the Colombian Stock Exchange Juan Pablo Cordoba smiles during a Reuters interview in Bogota February 1, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Jose Miguel Gomez. By Helen Murphy and Nelson Bocanegra. BOGOTA | Mon May 20, 2013 6:50pm EDT ...and more »
Mon, 20 May 2013 17:40:20 GMT
Mon, 20 May 2013 22:52:16 GMT
Colombia enters into game of attracting Hollywood businessL.A. BizHollywood may migrate south for a while while Colombia becomes the next country to bid for Hollywood production by offering incentives for filming. According to a report by Variety, a new law in the country will allow foreign shoots for film and TV ...
Mon, 20 May 2013 14:06:22 GMT
Searching For Stories (And Vacation) In Cartagena, ColombiaGadlingDavid Farley I had come to Colombia to write ? or at least I had hoped. But on my third day, I was sitting in the bar of the Santa Clara Sofitel hotel sipping mojitos spiked with lulo juice, one of the many exotic fruits found here, and all I could ...
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Results 1 - 10 of Headlines for Colombia
Tuesday, May 27th, 2003
: RCN Administrator
Colombia's top paramilitary leader, Carlos Castano, has warned a dissident regional group to join his United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) in peace talks with the government or face annihilation. He likely is maneuvering to clean up his image and consolidate his control over Colombia's regional and local paramilitary forces, but an immediate consequence could be greater levels of violence.Results Page:
Colombia's top paramilitary chieftains, Carlos Castano and Salvatore Mancuso, have publicly warned a dissident paramilitary group in Antioquia department to join the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) in peace talks with Bogota or face "annihilation," Bogota daily El Espectador reported May 27. Separately, Castano also announced that at least 1,000 members of the AUC and the Central Bolivar Block (BCB), which Mancuso commands, would voluntarily disarm in June as a gesture of good faith to the government of President Alvaro Uribe Velez.
Castano's goals likely are complex and highly risky. He is seeking to clean up his own and the AUC's image -- damaged by drug trafficking and violence -- locally and internationally in a bid to win political legitimacy and an official place in peace talks with the Colombian government. He also is moving to consolidate his control over fractious regional paramilitary groups that could become his political and military power base in a unified AUC, but which just as easily could become his mortal enemies if he fails to assert his control decisively.
Finally, by whipping dissident paramilitary groups into line and simultaneously disarming a fraction of the approximately 12,000 fighters that he, Mancuso and other allies control, Castano is continuing to manage the AUC's operations from a distance. His approach makes the Uribe government look bad and the AUC look good, and it preserves claims that the AUC's members have not violated the unilateral cease-fire they declared on Dec. 1, 2002.
This strategy carries several significant implications. First, levels of violence in Colombia likely will escalate in coming months as Castano and Mancuso seek to eliminate any paramilitaries who refuse to accept their command -- or, more importantly, who can tie Castano or Mancuso directly to drug trafficking.
Second, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla groups could gain some tactical and strategic advantages over the army and paramilitary groups, which frequently operate in parallel against rebel units. The FARC and ELN should be able to use this breathing space to rebuild forces that have been fighting without rest for months. It may allow them to launch new attacks in areas where the paramilitary presence has blocked rebel offensives.
Third, if a bloody conflict erupts between the AUC and dissident groups, it could expose the existence of possible links between paramilitary groups and elements of the Colombian army; however, military spokesmen vehemently deny that such links exist.
The AUC, originally created by Castano in 1996 as a loose federation of regional and local paramilitary groups under his central command, has been in turmoil for two years: Castano has struggled to restructure the group with a political future and presidential pardon in mind for himself and some of his closest allies, such as Mancuso. From the beginning of the AUC's existence, some of its member groups were loosely involved in drug trafficking, but Castano tolerated and even profited from that involvement until it became clear that the AUC's original purpose -- battling communist rebels who threatened Colombian democracy -- had been sidelined by its growing participation in criminal activities.
Castano went to war against former paramilitary colleagues in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region in northeast Colombia in 2001 after they refused to sever ties with the drug trade, and subsequently murdered several operatives of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). More than 70 people were killed on both sides before other paramilitary leaders intervened to restore peace.
However, Castano then stunned his paramilitary colleagues by announcing he was stepping down as the AUC's top military commander but planned to continue as its political leader. This forced the AUC's regional leaders to create a new expanded national command structure that dispersed authority over the AUC's military operations, and by extension any potential legal liabilities to other AUC leaders instead of Castano.
At the same time, Castano announced that all of the AUC's members must give up any involvement in drug trafficking or other criminal activities if they wished to remain part of the AUC. In mid-2002 he went even further. He first accused the AUC's member groups in southern Colombia's Putumayo department of being tied to the narcotics trade and then accused the AUC's Llanos Block, which operates along southeast Colombia's border with Venezuela, of kidnapping Venezuelan businessman Richard Boulton, who was held in captivity for more than two years until Castano secured his release. In August 2002, an AUC squad of killers gunned down the Llanos Block's leader.
For the past year, Castano has been working quietly to establish communications links with Uribe with the help of the Catholic Church, whose prelates in Colombia are far more comfortable with the alleged conservative ideology Castano claims to believe in than they are with the self-proclaimed revolutionary Marxism of the FARC and ELN. However, some regional paramilitary groups like Antioquia's Metro Block have rejected any talks with the government, arguing that it would be suicidal to agree to any peace plan requiring the paramilitaries to disarm as long as the FARC and ELN are still roaming Colombia's countryside and largest cities.
Castano has never delivered idle or empty threats, but the Metro Block's leaders are equally determined not to risk their own safety. This means that fairly soon up to 1,200 paramilitaries from the AUC and BCB could launch an offensive against the Metro Block's roughly 1,500 fighters.
It also means other paramilitary groups that support one side or the other may join the fight as well, causing a massive bloodletting in Antioquia that the FARC and ELN could leverage to expand their own presence in that region. However, the Uribe government and the U.S. President George W. Bush's administration haven't whispered a word about the imminent war between Castano and some of his one-time colleagues -- possibly because they expect that casualties inflicted by one paramilitary group onto another ultimately benefits the long-term security policy goals of both the United States and Colombia.
Sunday, January 19th, 2003
: RCN Administrator
After only six months in power, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe
Velez’s economic policies are causing his popularity among urban
voters to fall, according to a new Gallup poll published recently
by Bogota daily El Tiempo. Uribe’s approval ratings slipped from
74 percent to 68 percent in the final two months of 2002, and 46
percent of voters disapproved of the way he is managing the
The slide in the president’s popularity coincided with his
introduction of tax increases that impact middle-class Colombians and labor reforms that hurt the interests of unionized government workers. Although 77 percent of voters approved of Uribe’s campaign to clean up and downsize the government, support for his management of the military conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN) fell from 71 percent to 66 percent in the same two-month period.
This combination of increased voter discontent over economic issues and weakening support for his military offensive likely is not coincidental.
Colombians elected Uribe with a clear mandate to defeat the FARC and ELN and to reform national political institutions -- including Congress -- that are widely perceived as corrupt. However, the Gallup poll suggests that this mandate does not extend to measures that directly affect middle-class taxpayers and government employees, particularly in a sluggish economy like Colombia’s, which is plagued by unemployment rates of nearly 15 percent.
Uribe hopes to obtain popular approval for his economic reforms, together with a package of political reforms and anti-corruption measures, in a referendum to be held by mid-2003 at the latest. However, the Gallup poll found that the number of registered voters who say they intend to participate in the proposed referendum fell from 41 percent in November to 31 percent in
Among Uribe’s proposals is a reduction in the size of Congress. Legislators who are likely to lose their jobs would be among the first to oppose his economic initiatives -- such as a proposed one-time "war tax" on all Colombians, and higher personal and corporate taxes -- if they perceive he is losing popular support.
Similarly, although the president proposes to fire only 10,000 government workers and eliminate another 30,000 jobs over three years as aging workers retire, public-sector unions will oppose the elimination of government jobs that political parties dole out to supporters and friends.
If Uribe targets self-described leftist government unions for job cuts, work slowdowns and stoppages in the public sector can be expected. It’s also likely that the FARC and paramilitary groups could become involved if their leaders perceive that the president’s reforms are hurting the interests of their respective supporters within the government bureaucracy.
The greatest challenge Uribe confronts is that he must revive the economy and simultaneously expand the military offensive against the FARC and ELN, which together have more than 21,000 armed fighters deployed throughout the country. The president needs a robustly growing economy to expand the military, create jobs and cover social spending needs.
Uribe also needs a strong economy to maintain popular support for his war against the rebels. If the economy weakens further, he likely will come under growing pressure from middle- and low-income Colombians who may decide that suing for peace is cheaper than making war.
Tuesday, January 14th, 2003
: RCN Administrator
The Bush administration’s revocation of a Colombian Air Force unit’s human rights certification has startled the government of President Alvaro Uribe Velez. The revocation triggered the immediate suspension of direct U.S. aid to the First Air Combat Command, Colombia’s premier air force unit, and also cut off the annual delivery of $2 million in fuel to the entire air force.
In the past three years, the United States has given Colombia about $2 billion in mostly military aid. In late 2002, Washington also gave the Uribe government permission to shift U.S.-supplied military assets -- meant for eradicating the drug trade -- to fighting Colombian rebels.
However, the Bush administration’s decision to decertify the Colombian unit sends the Uribe government a clear message: The United States will continue to pressure Colombia to wipe out human rights abuses committed by its armed forces -- even as it supplies Colombia with hundreds of millions of dollars in additional military aid to help fight rebels and drug traffickers.
The First Air Combat Command has the air force’s only jet fighter squadrons, including French-made Mirages and Israeli-made Kfirs. Its fleet of aircraft also includes at least one American-made AC-47 gunship and attack helicopter assets. As a result, the real economic impact of the aid cutoff amounts to about one-tenth of 1 percent of total U.S. military assistance to Colombia.
However, the Bush administration recently has come under growing criticism from human rights watchdog groups and some European governments, who accuse the United States of turning its back on human rights abuses in countries that are nominal allies in its war on terrorism -- including Pakistan, Indonesia, Russia, China and several Central Asian republics.
It’s possible that the U.S. decision to decertify the unit was intended to send a message that Washington remains committed to opposing human rights violations anywhere in the world -- without actually crippling the Uribe government’s limited military capabilities to fight its rebels.
The specific incident that triggered the revocation of the unit’s human rights certification occurred on Dec. 13, 1998. During a battle between army units and members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) near the community of Santo Domingo in Arauca Department, an air force helicopter dropped an American-made, 20-pound AN-M41 fragmentation grenade that killed 18 civilians. The air force maintained from the beginning that the FARC had detonated a car bomb, but forensic investigations by FBI agents in Washington confirmed the bomb was air-dropped -- and American-made.
Despite the forensic findings, the Colombian air force has continued to insist the civilians were killed by a FARC car bomb. Also, Colombia has not been responsive to U.S. State Department demands for a swift and transparent investigation, according to officials in Washington.
Colombian Defense Minister Martha Lucia Ramirez called the U.S. action "strange" and said the government needed more time investigate the charges. U.S. State Department officials say Washington wants the matter wrapped up, with sanctions imposed on the parties responsible for the 18 deaths.
However, the State Department’s insistence on clearing up this case quickly before any military aid can be restored to the Colombian unit could have unexpected, adverse consequences for the Bush administration.
Although the incident happened four years ago during a Democratic U.S. administration, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2001 that U.S. civilians with two U.S. companies -- Occidental Petroleum of Los Angeles and Florida-based AirScan Inc. -- helped materially in the planning and execution of the unit’s operations against the FARC around Santo Domingo.
In testimony to Colombian investigators, the helicopter crew said they planned the operations at Occidental Petroleum’s headquarters in Arauca Department. They also testified that they fueled their helicopter at Occidental’s facilities and received coordinates intelligence from U.S. citizens flying for AirScan. At the time, AirScan was under contract to both the Colombian air force and Occidental, according to news reports.
Human rights watchdog groups initially praised the State Department’s decision to revoke the unit’s human rights certification. However, if the Colombian government decides to wrap up its investigation by also pointing the finger at U.S. civilians who work for Occidental Petroleum, human rights groups already critical of President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism could use it against the administration.
Tuesday, October 29th, 2002
: RCN Administrator
Colombia’s conflict always has been mainly rural, but the FARC rebels are determined to bring the war into cities, and the paramilitaries are in close pursuit. As a result, Colombians and foreign residents who live and work in cities like Bogota and Barranquilla soon will experience the war at close range.
Colombia’s largest rebel army detonated three powerful bombs in the past week in the cities of Arauca, Barranquilla and Bogota, killing at least five people and injuring more than 36 others. Some Colombian authorities described the attacks as retaliation for a recent army offensive in Medellin that resulted in the capture of more than 250 suspected urban members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN), according to Colombian news reports.
These attacks, for which the FARC took credit, indeed may have been motivated in part by revenge. However, the incidents also signal the guerrillas’ determination to carry their 38-year-old war against the state from Colombia’s rural regions into its most populous urban centers.
Major cities like Bogota, Cali and Medellin have a long history of criminal violence: Hundreds of people were killed and injured by numerous bombings during the late 1980s and early 1990s that were ordered by Medellin cartel kingpin Carlos Escobar, before police killed him in 1993. Nonetheless, the relentless spread of the historically rural conflict into the cities, at a time when the United States also is expanding its military footprint in Colombia, will significantly raise security risks for Colombians and foreign residents who live and work in its main urban centers.
Not all cities may face the same risks. For instance, residents of Medellin and Barrancabermeja, an oil-refining center, are at much greater risk of becoming casualties of urban warfare than residents of Bogota. However, the FARC has been trying with some success to escalate conflict within the greater Bogota region, despite intense police counterterrorism operations that since January 2002 have led to the seizure of nearly three tons of explosives, more than 2,000 homemade grenades and 6,000 rounds of mainly 7.62 mm and 9 mm ammunition.
Colombian Defense Minister Martha Lucia Ramirez said recently that Bogota is not at risk of becoming another Medellin, where for months hundreds of FARC and ELN fighters have been battling paramilitary forces for control of the city’s "comunas," or slums. However, Bogota daily El Tiempo disagreed sharply in a recent investigative report, which described an extensive, growing rebel and paramilitary presence mainly in poor slums in southeast Bogota.
El Tiempo also published an interview with an alleged leader of Bogota’s paramilitary forces who said that paramilitaries from Medellin soon might be asked to help Bogota organize an offensive against the rebels, given that the Medellin paramilitaries are experienced in house-to-house fighting. The effort would target FARC units entrenched in Ciudad Bolivar, Chachi and Sumapaz, along a southeast corridor linking Bogota to the former demilitarized zone controlled by the FARC until Feb. 20, 2002.
Another city at high risk of large-scale fighting between rebels and paramilitaries is Cucuta, which is directly across the border from the Venezuelan city of San Antonio del Tachira.
According to Colombian government sources, the FARC and ELN are using the Cucuta-San Antonio del Tachira area more and more as a smuggling corridor, and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) recently has deployed more paramilitary fighters toward Cucuta to shut down that route. As violence intensifies in Cucuta, it likely will spill into Venezuela more often, heightening the dangers of doing business in the Venezuelan state of Tachira.
However, many Colombian observers agree that the situation in Medellin illustrates the trend toward urban conflict. Medellin, a long-time drug trafficking center, has been a paramilitary and rebel stronghold for more than 20 years, mainly because of its importance as a regional hub for providing the FARC, ELN and AUC with new recruits and essential supplies.
Medellin police claim the AUC controls about 80 percent of the city’s poor neighborhoods, while the FARC, ELN and an urban guerrilla group that calls itself the People’s Armed Command (CAP) hold sway over the remaining 20 percent of the city, mainly in its northwest sectors -- where the fighting has been relentless throughout 2002.
Until very recently, the Colombian government stayed out of the battle between rebels and paramilitaries. However, President Alvaro Uribe Velez on Oct. 16 ordered nearly 3,000 soldiers supported by light armored vehicles and a pair of helicopter gunships to flush the FARC and ELN out of Comuna 13, where more than 100,000 people live in slums that climb the mountain slopes at the northwest edge of Medellin before fading into the jungle.
After four days of house-to-house fighting in which 18 people were killed and about 250 suspected rebels were arrested, the FARC and ELN disengaged and withdrew into the jungle. However, as soon as the army pulls out of Comuna 13, the rebels likely will return and low-intensity fighting against the AUC will continue.
Colombian government officials declared the battle a victory, but eyewitnesses were troubled by the type of weaponry and tactics used by the FARC, including assault rifles, light machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, coupled with a network of trenches and tunnels that gave an estimated 500 FARC rebels mobility under cover and interlocking fields of fire. Despite the low casualty count and reported arrests, the numerical superiority and firepower of the Colombian army failed to seriously damage the FARC’s forces.
After the battle for Comuna 13 ended with the Colombian army temporarily in control, Medellin Mayor Luis Perez said the conflict in his city is in essence a field test by rebels and paramilitaries to determine how best to seize and control large urban areas. If his assessment is correct, it implies that the FARC’s escalating urban warfare tactics will begin with targeted assassinations and bomb attacks, escalating to low-intensity house-to-house fighting in slums where the Colombian police and army rarely, if ever, deploy.
This means that Colombian slum-dwellers will suffer the brunt of fighting between the rebels and paramilitaries, while residents of middle- and upper-class neighborhoods will be more at risk of becoming random casualties in bomb attacks or targets for kidnapping or assassination. The FARC’s growing mastery of explosives technology acquired from Irish Republican Army and Basque separatist instructors also means that shopping malls, office buildings and government installations will be the likeliest targets for large car-bombs or smaller briefcase bombs.
Tuesday, September 17th, 2002
: RCN Administrator
Gunmen in the Colombian city of Medellin have assassinated two senior government security officials and nearly killed the director of a national prison since July. All three attempts were planned and executed meticulously by gunmen who possessed excellent intelligence, enabling them to strike while the targets were most vulnerable and subsequently to make clean getaways.
No one has taken credit for the attacks, and it is unlikely they were the work of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or the National Liberation Army rebel groups, as they do not have the necessary tactical intelligence. The tactics employed were remarkably similar to those used by assassination squads working for Medellin cartel drug lord Pablo Escobar in the 1980s. Moreover, in all three attacks, the assassins clearly were familiar with the daily schedules and movements of their intended targets.
Maj. Luis Francisco Rodriguez, commander of the government’s elite anti-terrorist unit, was assassinated July 12 by four gunmen on two motorcycles. On Sept. 2 Carlos Enrique Largo Hernandez, director of the Bellavista National Jail, was shot several times by at least five gunmen riding on two motorcycles and driving a stolen Ford sedan. Largo Hernandez survived the attempt.
Three days later on Sept. 5, four gunmen riding two motorcycles assassinated Fernando Mancilla, the recently appointed chief of the Antioquia Department division of the Colombian secret police (DAS), only eight hours before he was scheduled to be officially sworn in to his new job.
Rodriguez and Mancilla both were traveling in their personal vehicles and without security escorts when they were killed. Rodriguez was killed on his day off, and Mancilla’s new appointment as Antioquia’s DAS chief supposedly was being kept secret before he actually was sworn in, according to news reports from Medellin.
According to eyewitnesses at both assassinations, the gunmen were traveling on new motorcycles, wore bulletproof vests and fired into the automobiles from the back and driver’s side before the victims could react. Rodriguez’s killers used automatic weapons, while Mancilla’s assassins employed semiautomatic handguns.
Historically, paramilitary groups loyal to Carlos Castano, who leads the regional United Peasant Self-Defense Forces of Cordoba and Uraba, have controlled Antioquia Department and its capital city of Medellin. Some Medellin law enforcement officials are speculating quietly that Castano or someone else high in the region’s paramilitary hierarchy ordered all three attacks.
However, it is not clear why Castano would go after government officials who have taken at least a neutral stance regarding paramilitary activities. It appears more likely that the assassination attempts were ordered by remnants of the Medellin cocaine cartel, which fell apart after Escobar was shot dead in December 1993 and most of his associates were killed or jailed.
All three targets had extensive prior histories fighting and prosecuting Medellin drug traffickers. For instance, Mancilla was a former prosecutor who investigated and jailed several top Medellin cartel members in the 1980s and even interviewed Escobar shortly before the drug lord was killed.
Tuesday, September 10th, 2002
: RCN Administrator
The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) has been reconstituted, barely two months after top chieftain Carlos Castano dissolved the paramilitary group. Castano and his colleagues are seeking political recognition and possibly presidential pardons from the new Colombian government. The new AUC’s rules prohibit members from engaging in drug trafficking and terrorism, but these rules will prove difficult -- if not impossible -- to enforce.
The fearsome United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary group -- dissolved barely two months ago - re-formed Sept. 8 under new rules that prohibit members from engaging in drug trafficking and terrorism. The group announced its new rules following a five-day conclave that was attended by 18 paramilitary chieftains and some 2,000 fighters.
Hours later, Catholic Monsignor Pedro Rubiano, president of the national conference of bishops, endorsed the group’s promises to seek peace and end massacres and drug-related activities.
Paramilitary chieftains Carlos Castano and Salvatore Mancuso, a former cattle rancher who knows Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez personally, clearly are seeking to clean up their public images, enhance their legitimacy with voters and distance themselves from liability related to terrorist or criminal acts committed by AUC members. They have garnered at least some support from the Catholic Church in Colombia, suggesting that conservative business and military leaders also may be quietly backing a strategy to "launder" the AUC’s bad image. How long this strategy can succeed, however, is not clear -- particularly since the paramilitary group’s new rules will be difficult or impossible to enforce.
Cleaning up the AUC’s image internationally likely will prove impossible since neither the United States nor European Union are likely to take it off their lists of terrorist organizations. However, Castano, Mancuso and other paramilitary leaders yearning for political respectability and legal immunity may have better prospects with Uribe, who wants to deploy thousands of so-called "peasant soldiers" to rural areas where government forces do not have a permanent presence but AUC members do.
Veteran AUC commanders and fighters could constitute the backbone of these "peasant soldier" units if many paramilitaries now deemed criminal groups were legalized. In fact, Bogota daily El Espectador reported Sept. 8 that Uribe is using his executive powers -- under the state of commotion or emergency now in effect -- to draft a decree that would pardon all rebels and paramilitaries not directly implicated in human rights violations.
The main objective would be to persuade members of the guerrilla Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to desert and voluntarily disarm in return for pardons and economic incentives. However, in the context of an AUC cleanup, the possibility of a presidential pardon also opens a door for some AUC commanders and forces to retain their structural integrity and offensive capabilities.
Although Castano, Mancuso and other senior AUC leaders may dream of political legitimacy and presidential pardons, the group likely will have difficulty policing the actions of some of its numerous regional components -- particularly if the new rules prohibiting drug trafficking threaten their revenue streams.
As a result, AUC forces commanded by Castano and Mancuso likely will make war in the coming weeks and months against regional paramilitary groups that remain engaged in the drug trade and other off-limits activities. Some of these groups likely will not be AUC members, and others could be some of those commanded by the 18 chieftains who agreed to rejoin the AUC.
One of the individual paramilitary leaders likely to be targeted by Castano and Mancuso is Hernan Giraldo Serna in northern Colombia, who is wanted by the United States on drug-related charges. Castano and Mancuso currently have a truce with Giraldo Serna, but it won’t last much longer. By killing or capturing him and handing him over to Bogota, Castano would remove a threat to his own life and possibly win political points with the Uribe administration.
Two regional groups that could be attacked by reconstituted AUC forces include the Central Bolivar block, which fields some 2,500 paramilitary fighters, and the group operating in the Puerto Gaitan and Puerto Lopez area of Meta department. The Central Bolivar block was not invited to the conclave because its leaders are heavily engaged in drug trafficking, AUC sources told El Tiempo. The second group was excluded because it was responsible for kidnapping Venezuelan businessman Richard Boulton in July 2000.
Castano exploited the disclosure that Boulton was being held by this AUC group to dissolve the organization, laying the groundwork for the new AUC.
However, it remains to be seen if the new paramilitary group will be any different from the old one. Castano told El Tiempo that, although members cannot engage directly in the drug trade, they could tax drug traffickers in their areas of operation. He also indicated that the new AUC will continue to accept "contributions" from coca growers and to fund operations through sales of stolen gasoline and other oil products.
Moreover, the regional paramilitary groups that make up the AUC are fiercely independent in terms of command structures and funding sources. In many areas, funding comes from cattle ranchers, industrialists, merchants and others who pay the paramilitaries to provide security the government is incapable of guaranteeing. Some of the funding undoubtedly comes from drug traffickers, who likely will be left alone by the AUC as long as they don’t do business with guerrillas.
Tuesday, September 10th, 2002
: RCN Administrator
The first war plan we considered, Operation Desert Stun, assumed that the United States would have almost no coalition support in the region outside of Turkey and very limited ground forces available. Under Desert Stun, the United States would have to carry out an intense, high-risk operation to achieve its war aims, using a plan built around a political decision by regional Iraqi commanders to cooperate with the United States. Were the political conversions not achieved, the United States would have to either abandon its plan or move to a follow-on plan.
Operation Desert Slice can be viewed as a follow-on plan to an unsatisfactory Desert Stun, a potential precursor operation to it or as a stand-alone plan. Desert Slice assumes that there would be some regional coalition support that would permit a limited basing of troops. In particular, it assumes at least Jordanian cooperation and possibly also cooperation from Kuwait. Desert Slice seeks to leverage this less-constrained environment to create a longer term, lower risk operation.
The operation’s goal would be to systematically degrade Iraqi control of the countryside without relying on the collaboration of Iraqi field commanders. Under this plan, Baghdad’s control over Iraq would methodically constrict until the regime would implode under external pressure. It would not require simultaneous, multi-front operations but would permit sequential, regional operations. This would allow for economy of force and create political opportunities in Baghdad in the course of the operations.
For the purpose of providing rough boundaries for theaters of operation, Iraq can be viewed as four geographic regions:
* The sparsely populated western region, whose eastward limits run from the Syrian border near Sinjar in the north to the Iraq-Kuwait-Saudi Arabia tri-border region in the south.
* The northern region, whose limits run on a line from As-Sulaymaniyah through Kirkuk and Mosul to the Syrian border.
* The southern region, centered around Basrah, and running northwest; its limits are on a line from Al-Amarah to An-Najaf, at the outer limits of the marshlands forming the Euphrates delta.
* The Baghdad region, running on a north-south axis, with its western limits on the lakes west of the city and its eastern limits in the fortifications along the Iranian frontier. Its northern extension would run from the tip of Buhayrat Ath Thartar to Tikrit (Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s hometown) to Khanaqin, near the Iranian frontier. The southern limit would run from near Al-Hillah and the ruins of ancient Babylon, through Al-Kut and Ali Al-Gharbi to the Iranian border. The region is crossed by multiple water barriers created by the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.
Desert Slice would focus on slicing off the three outlying regions -- western, northern and southern -- leaving the Baghdad region to whither on the vine. It would undoubtedly begin with the Phase I air campaign described in Operation Desert Stun scenario. Depending on logistical and political considerations, however, in Desert Slice it would be possible to sequence the Phase I attack in a more leisurely manner -- or even begin it after some ground operations had already commenced. But the critical point is that a Phase I air attack is not an indispensable enabler for this plan.
Any attempt to slice Iraq into segments risks an extreme Iraqi response. During Desert Storm, this response consisted of SCUD attacks against Israel and U.S. targets in Saudi Arabia. It must be assumed that the Iraqi SCUD capability has not subsided but actually has increased. Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether Iraq has nuclear weapons, let us presume that it has at least developed chemical agents that could be delivered by SCUD. This would necessitate capturing Western Iraq as a precursor to all other operations.
The United States does not want Israeli participation in a war with Iraq. Clearly SCUD attacks on Israel, particularly if they were more effective than in 1991, would trigger an Israeli response. Whether the United States wanted it or not, the perception in the Islamic and Arab worlds would be that the United States and Israel were jointly attacking Iraq. Desert Slice assumes a degree of cooperation from some of Iraq’s Arab neighbors; Israeli participation in the war, regardless of the provocation, would shatter an already thin coalition. Indeed, knowing this, Hussein would have every reason to use his SCUDs against Israel early, rather than later, in the campaign.
During Desert Storm in 1991, the special operations/air campaign against Iraqi SCUD sites proved unable to stop the attacks. Although there has been ten years of technical development, it is not clear whether this evolution favors the U.S. sensors or Iraqi camouflage and deception. Given the criticality of the mission, however, the United States could not afford to depend solely on air power to suppress the SCUDs.
Since Operation Desert Slice is built on a territorial constriction of Baghdad, it follows that the direct ground occupation of the region must be the first step. This seems to be in line with Iraq’s deployment of forces. In general, the Iraqis appear to have layered their forces so that the most capable formations are deployed near Baghdad while their less capable forces are forward deployed. There are sound military reasons for this. Hussein does not intend to fight the decisive battle in the open where U.S. mobility and air superiority can be most effective. He will prefer to fight in urbanized areas, where these factors can be negated and where the United States will be fighting on extended lines of supply. The further his forces are from Baghdad, the thinner and weaker they become.
The Iraqi deployment reinforces the logic of Operation Desert Slice. An attack in the western region not only would decrease the risk to Israel and thus increase the stability of the coalition but also would be initially against the weakest Iraqi deployments. Taking control of the western region would require a relatively small deployment of U.S. forces. For example, if the marine force that recently trained in Jordan were reinforced with some Special Operations assets and some additional Army light infantry, it would represent a substantial capability that could take, hold and patrol the region. If Iraqi armored formations located west of Baghdad moved against these troops, the United States would have an opportunity to use air power in an environment where advanced air defenses would already have been eliminated.
The second phase of the attack in the northern region would pose some challenges. The Turkish-Iraqi frontier is extremely rugged with only tracks running through most of the region. The single effective road, the road to Mosul, is in the extreme west and runs along the Syrian-Turkish border for quite a distance. Indeed, the most rational axis of attack from Turkey into Iraq runs through Syria.
Fortunately for the Americans, the Turks have developed extensive experience and capabilities in cross-border operations into Iraq. Their forces have on a number of occasions penetrated deep into Iraq and remained there. This is due partly to the Turks’ own capabilities and partly to cooperation with the Kurds. However, Kurdish cooperation is a sensitive issue as the Kurds want to form their own state. The Turks do not want to hear about a Kurdish state. Getting the two sides to cooperate is complex, but, nevertheless, an attack is possible.
Unlike western Iraq, which is lightly defended, northern Iraq does contain some Iraqi forces. According to The New York Times, the northernmost formations, comprising the Iraqi 5th Corps, consist of a Republican Guard mechanized division and four regular army divisions (one mechanized and three infantry). All are based west of the Kurdish region in the mountainous northeast, centered around Mosul. Southeast of the 5th Corps is the 1st Corps around Kirkuk, consisting of a Republican Guard infantry division, a regular army mechanized division and two army infantry divisions.
This appears to be a large formation that would be susceptible to U.S. tactical air power based in Turkey. Therefore, we would expect that immediately after, or even in conjunction with, the attack on western Iraq, the United States would begin a counterforce air campaign in the north. This campaign, accompanied by Special Forces targeting, would aim at disorganizing the Iraqi rear. If Turkish and/or Kurdish forces could be induced to bear the burden of the ground war, an air campaign of a few weeks’ duration would culminate in a ground campaign that could secure the perimeters of the region, if not pacify it.
This would leave the most difficult piece of Operation Desert Slice, the southern piece. The United States would have two ways to approach this problem. If the Kuwaitis permitted the Americans to use their territory for an attack on Iraq, an attack northward would be possible. It should be noted that the terrain in this region is not ideal for mobile operations. The western portion of the Kuwait-Iraqi border is suitable terrain, but the eastern portion, particularly the road to Basrah, runs through intensely marshy terrain. Indeed, even a direct northward thrust would end up in the marshes. The operation would need to run north along a few roads paralleling the Shatt al Arab.
On the other hand, the region is lightly held. The 3rd Corps, in the south, consists of three regular army divisions while the 4th Corps, along the Nasiriyah-Amarah line, also has three army divisions. However, in this terrain, a determined infantry force could be effective. A simple ground attack north out of Kuwait would not by itself suffice.
Apart from the obvious need for air power, using anti-personnel munitions, there is a real requirement for amphibious forces. If the coastal defenses could be suppressed by air power and special operations, a marine amphibious force heavily equipped with Light Armored Vehicles and helicopters could assault the region and impose a rapid mobile operation on the Iraqis in spite of the terrain. A marine amphibious assault, supported by a mechanized army force operating out of Kuwait, would slice off the final piece.
This, of course, leaves Baghdad. None of the forces deployed in the plan thus far could possibly approach Baghdad unless there were a full capitulation. Even a general disintegration of Iraq’s command and control would leave open the possibility of resistance by some forces. Due to the force multipliers of river lines and urbanization, even a relatively small number of enemy forces could generate larger numbers of casualties than the attacking forces could handle.
On the other hand, Operation Desert Slice would leave Baghdad in a potential crisis. Cut off from food supplies, clearly unable to regain lost territory, subject to constant air attack, even Hussein’s highly capable security apparatus would be pressed to the breaking point. The United States would now have the luxury of time and could increase its force and logistical capability in Iraq systematically. Using this additional force, it could systematically tighten the noose around the city without having to enter it. Obviously, this poses a serious political challenge, because if encirclement turns into siege and Hussein doesn’t capitulate, the limits on the U.S. ability to wage siege warfare are obvious.
The weakness with Desert Slice, as with Desert Stun, is the end game. However, unlike Desert Stun, Desert Slice yields substantial territorial gains. It is a lower risk operation. It is also an operation fully compatible with Desert Stun, since regional military leaders have the same inducement to switch sides while the psychological pressure on the rump Baghdad region could induce others to switch sides, too.
Desert Slice does have an overwhelming potential weakness. The entire plan is built around the assumption that (a) Hussein’s forces are incapable of mounting an offensive or that (b) any offensive will be managed with air power. If those assumptions prove false, then U.S. forces would be on the ground in insufficient numbers to resist a determined ground attack. By the numbers, Hussein should be able to beat the thin forces used in Desert Slice. The fundamental assumption is that the numbers don’t mean anything, that Hussein’s force is qualitatively incapable of effective action.
If that premise proves false, Desert Slice could turn into "Desert Slaughter." In Desert Storm, the principle was to consistently overestimate Iraq’s military on the premise that one can never go wrong overestimating an enemy and overmatching his force. Desert Slice is driven by the limits of the coalition and the inability to bring overwhelming power to bear. It assumes, therefore, that the power that is available will be sufficient. In one sense, this makes Desert Slice even more risky than Desert Stun. In Desert Stun, the failure of the air campaign left relatively few U.S. forces exposed on the ground. In Desert Slice, there would be enough forces on the ground to generate a bloody defeat.
There is, therefore, an even more conservative plan, Desert Storm II.
Tuesday, September 10th, 2002
: RCN Administrator
Government and security officials in Indonesia are questioning Washington’s decision Sept. 10 to close its embassy in Jakarta indefinitely due to alleged terrorist threats, saying the closure could tarnish Indonesia’s image. Washington’s announcement came on the heels of a comment by U.S. Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce that U.S. businesses should refrain from new investments in Indonesia until after the country’s investment and security climates improve.
The embassy closure was one of many U.S. security measures taken in Southeast Asia near the Sept. 11 anniversary, but when combined with Boyce’s comments, it appears to be a vote of no confidence in Indonesia by the United States. Though the two recent actions may be unrelated or coincidental, they may also be part of a U.S. effort to pressure Jakarta to do more in the war against terrorism.
But no matter what the intention, the U.S. actions are fueling tensions between competing factions within the Indonesian government, which must balance support for Washington with the interests of domestic groups. The U.S. move could backfire by quickly widening these rifts and fractures.
Washington remains concerned that Jakarta has not done enough to prevent Indonesia from becoming a convenient location for al Qaeda and other militant groups to organize and plan operations. And the United States is not alone in this fear, as Indonesia’s neighbors Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and even Australia have voiced concerns that Jakarta will not crack down on groups and individuals with suspected al Qaeda links.
For instance, National Police chief Gen. Dai Bachtiar recently said there is no proof that alleged militant leader Abu Bakar Bashir is involved in any terrorist activities, even though Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines have all accused him of having ties to al Qaeda.
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political and security affairs, said Sept. 10 he was "surprised" by Washington’s decision to indefinitely shut its embassy, local media reported. The effect this could have on international perceptions of Indonesia is particularly troubling for a nation that continues to struggle to attract foreign investments and aid.
Dai Bachtiar told the Antara news agency Sept. 11 that the embassy closure was strictly on orders from Washington and not due to any immediate terrorist threat from inside Indonesia. He also said Jakarta could not fault the embassy as it did not give the order. But Indonesian Vice President Hamzah Haz has requested Boyce visit his office on Sept. 12, Antara reported.
For Indonesian officials, the fear of U.S. pressure tactics is two-fold. First, Indonesia is struggling for foreign investments to boost its economy, which still languishes from the 1997 Asian economic crisis. Foreign investments into Indonesia have dropped 40 percent since the beginning of the year, BBC reported. And the continued appearance of political and economic instability, the lax rule of law, rampant corruption and the ongoing warnings about terrorism threats and anti-American sentiment in the country only serve to exacerbate the difficulties of attracting new investments.
But government officials are also trying to appease internal interest groups, and U.S. criticism stirs resentment among some sectors in the country. Furthermore, because Indonesia is the world’s most populous Islamic nation, the government must walk a careful line in balancing the interests of the Islamic masses and the desires of the United States or Indonesia’s neighbors.
Many politicians are trying to rally the support of Indonesians by playing the Muslim card, standing up to the United States in what they see as its undeclared war on Islam. Even those officials who are not playing up their Islamic credentials still portray themselves as Indonesian nationalists and cannot be seen as kowtowing to Washington too deeply. By inserting itself further into this divide with its possible pressure tactics, whether intentional or not, Washington may actually be making it more difficult for Jakarta to cooperate against terrorism.
Wednesday, August 7th, 2002
: RCN Administrator
BOGOTA, Colombia — Huge explosions rocked Colombia’s capital and the area around its parliament yesterday as hard-liner Alvaro Uribe entered the building to be sworn in as president of this troubled South American country. At least 15 persons were killed in the blasts, witnesses said.
Three blasts occurred within blocks of the parliament building as Senate leader Luis Alfredo Ramos prepared to give the oath of office to Mr. Uribe, who has vowed to wipe out rebels who have been fighting Colombian governments for 38 years.
At least one other explosion went off adjacent to the nearby presidential palace, wounding a policeman, who staggered bloodied from the scene. The blast chipped the stone wall of the palace and blew out windows.
Government warplanes were seen streaking above the capital after the blasts.
Witnesses reported seeing 10 dead bodies in the street and in a demolished shack in the poor Cartucho neighborhood, five blocks from the parliament.
The country’s attorney general’s office also said at least two others died in an explosion closer to the parliament.
Nobody took immediate responsibility for the blasts, nor was it clear what had caused them. Colombian rebels often are said to use inaccurate homemade mortars in their attacks.
Concerned about an assassination attempt by the rebels, Mr. Uribe had forgone the traditional outdoor ceremony in Bogota’s colonial central plaza and moved the swearing in to the parliament building.
Army troops quickly sealed off the Cartucho neighborhood after the explosions. The government has been tearing down shanties in the area in recent months as part of an urban renewal program, and resentment against authorities has been running high. Some residents threw rocks at the soldiers, while others wept.
"There’s no escaping poverty or violence," said a man who identified himself only as Jose.
A woman next to him sobbed, saying her husband had died in the blasts.
Troops patrolled the streets, and combat helicopters thundered overhead during the inauguration.
Hours earlier, small bombs exploded in several neighborhoods of the capital, slightly injuring six persons and blowing out windows and chunks of sidewalk. No one immediately took responsibility for these attacks.
Amid unconfirmed police reports that rebels had planned to crash a plane into the parliament, Bogota’s airspace was closed and an American P3 plane staffed with U.S. Customs Service and Colombian air force personnel patrolled overhead.
Hopes were high that Mr. Uribe can end the war that has sapped the potential of Colombia, a gateway between Central and South America that is a three-hour flight from Miami.
At 50, Mr. Uribe has worked in government for half his life. A lawyer with degrees from Harvard and Oxford universities, he served two terms in his country’s Senate, was mayor of his native Medellin, director of Colombia’s civil aviation authority and governor of violence-ravaged Antioquia state.
Mr. Uribe inherits the decades-old war with rebels, which kills about 3,500 people every year. The war pits the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, against an outlawed right-wing paramilitary group and the government.
Mr. Uribe’s father was fatally shot during an apparent rebel kidnapping attempt in 1983. The new president has been the target of more than a half-dozen assassination attempts, including a deadly attack on his motorcade during the election campaign.
But he insists his stance against the rebels is not motivated by revenge and pledges to be equally tough against right-wing militias and drug traffickers.
He also has promised to take on government corruption and reform the tax code.
He faces a country in economic turmoil, with about 64 percent of Colombians living below the poverty line, and more than 17 percent of city dwellers unable to find jobs.
Mr. Uribe, a workaholic and teetotaler, warned in a radio interview yesterday that he cannot perform miracles.
"To the Colombians I say: Expect action every day, but not miraculous results."
Immediately after being sworn in, Mr. Uribe planned to propose a referendum to almost halve the number of lawmakers and merge the two houses of parliament.
The blatant attack on the entrenched political class could provoke a pitched battle with the same congress whose backing he needs to push his other reforms.
"President Uribe is going to encounter obstacles in the road but also a lot of support if he follows through with the necessary reforms," said congressman Antonio Navarro.
Mr. Uribe says the reforms will cut back on government waste and allow more money to be diverted to fighting the war against the rebels. He also hopes to secure more funding from the United States, which in the past two years has given Colombia $1.7 billion, mostly in military aid.
The inauguration yesterday was attended by several Latin American presidents. Mr. Uribe also enjoys broad support from the White House, which sent a delegation that included Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick and U.S. drug czar John Walters.
"He understands that security means eliminating the extremes on the left and the right and eliminating the drugs that fund those organizations," Mr. Walters said.
Mr. Uribe’s predecessor, Andres Pastrana, tried for three years to negotiate peace with FARC, the nation’s largest rebel group.
The talks broke down in February without achieving substantial results.
Frustrated, most Colombians believe that now is the time for a tougher approach.
"The guerrillas don’t want to talk," said shopkeeper Juan Manuel Martinez. "Uribe is going to take us into war because now we have to fight to save Colombia."
Wednesday, July 31st, 2002
: RCN Administrator
A town in southern Colombia has been cleared out by Marxist rebels, becoming a virtual ghost town.
The whereabouts of the inhabitants of Puerto Alvira are unknown.
When troops swept into the community after reports that guerrillas had been through over the weekend, they found just eight of the town’s 700 inhabitants.
The authorities are not sure whether they have been kidnapped, forcibly displaced or temporarily moved by guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to allow them to conduct operations.
The authorities are claiming the guerrillas have committed another atrocity and kidnapped the town’s inhabitants to use as human shields or forcibly drove them from their homes.
Analysts believe the action could be a trap to lure security forces into guerrilla ambushes
It is indeed possible that they have been displaced - a common tactic used by the warring factions against communities who are believed to favour the opposition. Indeed more than two million have been displaced during the 38-year civil conflict.
Yet Puerto Alvira has long been under the control of the guerrillas of the FARC - so much so that their hated enemies, the right-wing paramilitaries, conducted one of their infamous massacres there in 1997.
They assassinated 30 townsfolk, accusing them of being guerrilla sympathisers.
That the FARC told everyone to leave seems certain. Many of the inhabitants have gone to nearby villages, perhaps awaiting the message that they can return.
Analysts believe the action could be a trap to lure security forces into guerrilla ambushes or to divert attention from other action elsewhere.
Whatever the case, yet again innocent civilians are the victims of the warring factions.
And with a hard-line president, Alvaro Uribe, due to take office in a week’s time with a promise to crack down on the FARC, the civilian population is sure to bear the brunt of escalated violence.