Military Performance in Colombian Consolidation
By Dialogo August 27, 2010
In 2007, the Armed Forces General Command designated the subregion of the Montes de María made up of El Carmen de Bolívar, María la Baja, San Juan Nepomuceno, San Jacinto, Zambrano, Córdoba, El Guamo, Ovejas, and Coloso, among other municipalities in the departments of Bolívar and Sucre, as one of the strategic areas to be consolidated.
Consolidation would be achieved by the military defeat of Squads 35 and 37 of the narco-terrorist organization (NTO) the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the JAIME BATEMAN CAYÓN Squad of the NTO the National Liberation Army (ELN), and the NTO the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP). The Command assigned the National Army’s Decisive Action Joint Force (FUCAD) and units of the National Navy to this task, including the 1st Marine Brigade and the Caribbean Regional Intelligence Unit.
By May 2008, a 90% decrease in the armed structures of FARC Squads 35 and 37, a 95% reduction in the armed structure of the ELN, and the total demobilization of the ERP were achieved. This took place specifically in the area of North and South Aguacateras and North and South Aromeras, sectors of the FARC’s strategic rearguard.
The consolidation came to an end in May 2008 with FUCAD’s departure from the jurisdiction. The National Navy continued the military effort from that time forward, achieving one year later the total neutralization of the armed structures of FARC Squads 35 and 37, as well as of the ELN’s JAIME BATEMAN CAYON Squad.
The neutralization of the armed structures of the FARC and the ELN left their militias leaderless, isolated, and without resources, incapable of carrying out coordinated actions, from the military or political point of view, and without the capacity to carry out criminal intelligence or mass organizing work among the inhabitants of the various communities.
Once the threat to the civilian population was eliminated, the fundamental objective established by President Álvaro Uribe in his Democratic Security Policy was fulfilled: “The recovery of state control over the greater part of the national territory, particularly that territory affected by the activity of illegal armed groups and drug traffickers.”
As a direct consequence of the action of government forces, the subregion of the Montes de María became one of the first areas of the country free from the threat of illegal armed groups. Citizens’ rights and liberties were protected, and they returned to the path of economic and social development without fear.
In accordance with the Democratic Security Consolidation Policy (PCSD), “our [Colombia’s] task now is to consolidate that control, something that demands, in addition to the presence of government forces, the arrival of the state in all its forms, through its various entities and agencies. It is a matter of guaranteeing the return of institutionality.”
In the economic arena, this consolidation produced steep growth in the leading agricultural sector, such as a significant increase in avocado production. “So far this season in the region as a whole, there have been 10.5 billion pesos in sales,” the president of the regional Avocado Producers Association, Senen Arrieta, told the daily El Universal.
As far as the region’s governability is concerned, the different agencies that guarantee the rule of law, like the agencies that administer justice, the investigative agencies of the attorney-general’s office (Technical Investigative Corps), and the monitoring agencies, such as the inspector-general’s office, carried out their functions without pressures of any kind from groups operating outside the law.
The remaining terrorist threat in the Montes de María area, consisting of diminished, isolated militia cells without resources, became the focus of military operations in the region.
These clandestine militia organizations dress in civilian clothes and use handguns that they hide among their clothes, seeking to confuse the authorities and mingling with the civilian population. This complicates the decision to consider them enemy combatants, since international law lacks clear definitions.
Article 1 of the Hague Convention refers to militias and volunteer corps that fulfill four conditions:
1.- To be commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
2.- To have a fixed distinctive emblem recognizable at a distance;
3.- To carry arms openly; and
4.- To conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.
Of these four conditions, it is clear that the militias of the narco-terrorist organizations that engage in criminal activity in Colombia do not wear distinctive emblems that identify them as such, do not carry arms openly or wear military uniforms, and have insistently refused to adopt and respect the laws and customs of war.
For this reason, they rely permanently on trying to mingle with the population, carrying out attacks against civilians they consider close to government forces, and using antipersonnel mines, as well as not carrying out continuous combat operations, which makes it difficult to determine whether military or police operations should be conducted in order to dismantle these structures.
In 2009, an attempt was made to resolve this question with the issuance of the Operational Law Manual, which established that in regions like the Montes de María, where the armed threat has been defeated but military operations are still underway, these operations should be aimed at maintaining security and should be conducted in accordance with human-rights principles.
With the purpose of preserving human rights, the aim is to detain and imprison the militia members by strengthening military intelligence, infiltrating their structures, and doing interinstitutional work to enable the participation of investigative agencies that can help to identify, individualize, bring legal charges against, and apprehend the terrorists.
Now that government forces have territorial control, the different state agencies administer justice and can pursue investigations without any coercion. What, then, will be the operational role of a battalion commander in preventing the resurgence of threats in the consolidation phase?
As established in the PCSD, “police efforts and, in certain cases, military efforts will be made selectively in order to guarantee the preservation of these conditions.” The chief effort will be made by the National Police, and the supporting effort will be the responsibility of the armed forces, which will exercise proportionate force.