Air Attacks Crucial to Colombia’s Anti-FARC Strategy

By Dialogo
May 06, 2013

MEDELLÍN, Colombia — Aircraft bombings have produced some of the greatest blows against the FARC, killing leaders such as Raúl Reyes and Victor Julio Suárez Rojas — better known as Mono Jojoy — who died in 2010 when a bomb dropped from a Súper Tucano attack plane landed alongside his hammock. The Colombian Air Force also took part in the 2008 operation that killed Alfonso Cano, who had succeeded Manuel Marulanda as FARC’s top commander.
The constant bombings and night raids have severely demoralized and weakened the FARC — one of the primary reasons the guerrilla group has been willing to engage the Colombian government in ongoing peace talks aimed at ending the 50-year-old conflict.
“The FARC simply have a very difficult time hiding,” said Adam Isacson, senior associate for regional security at the Washington Office on Latin America. “What former rebel fighters have said is that they constantly live in fear of attack from the air much more than anything else.”
In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, the FARC sought to acquire rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) to neutralize the threat of the military’s air power. By 2000, however, the FARC had switched its priorities to acquiring surface-to-air missiles, known as SAMs.
Douglas Farah, a senior fellow at the Washington-based International Assessment and Strategy Center, said SAMs are “incredibly useful and relatively easy to use.”
“They are heat-seeking,” he said, “so they go to where the engine is.”
Possession of SAMs could frustrate military campaign
If the FARC were to bring down a Colombian helicopter or airplane with a missile, say analysts, the Colombian military would be forced to reassess its tactics. Remote outposts would immediately be jeopardized, as the Army would be unable to fly in rapid reaction forces in the event of a guerrilla raid.
Resupplying troops in these outposts would become more difficult. To avoid detection by the missiles, helicopters would be forced to fly low, hugging the contours of the ground in what pilots call “nap of the earth” flight, which is costly and would be dangerous in Colombia’s mountainous terrain.
Farah said that FARC taking out a single aircraft would amount to “a significant psychological blow” for Colombian forces.
Emails intercepted by military intelligence in recent decades have made clear the FARC’s desire to obtain surface-to-air missiles. In one email dated Sept. 4, 2000, Raúl Reyes asks former Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi for a loan to buy the missiles and refers to them as a “priority.”
Evidence supporting missile claim mounts
During the last few years, reports have emerged claiming that the FARC had already acquired the missiles or had come close to doing so. In 2010, Miami’s Spanish-language El Nuevo Herald newspaper reported that a Peruvian Air Force official was being prosecuted for having sold a FARC intermediary in Ecuador at least seven Strela and Igla surface-to-air missiles between 2008 and 2009.
And in late November 2012, just as the peace talks started in earnest, Bogotá newspaper El Tiempo reported that the Colombian Army had seized two SA-7 missiles in Cauca.
The Russian-made SA-7 system, though old, is now being used in Syria by rebel fighters fending off government attacks. However, the system is difficult to maintain in the humid jungle climates where FARC operates because its batteries erode, discharge and malfunction, Farah said.
If FARC now has functioning surface-to-air missiles, he said, “they must have overcome some obstacle that has been in their way for a long time.”
With the millions of dollars the FARC earns from drug trafficking, the guerrilla group would seem to have had ample opportunity to purchase SAMs in recent years — not only from illegal arms dealers but also from corrupt military officials in neighboring countries with stockpiles. Nicaragua has about 600 SA-7s, and Venezuela is known to have purchased a large number of shoulder-fired SA-24 antiaircraft missiles from Russia.
I am ready for my country, anxious to become another leader for my dear Ecuador Please send me news like these and all the good news. Regards. Humberto Davila please send me all news like this one and all the good news. Regards, Humberto davila It is better that the Farcs negotiate peace even if it is fragile, than to have them all killed in camps filled with women and children, and with American planes overflying from Panama. That would be very irresponsible of the Farcs, it'd be suicide if they don't negotiate in Cuba. The FARC don't need to worry - Mr. Obama doesn't want to get involved in any conflict.