On April 23, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, on a visit to Colombia, attended an exhibition by Army Special Forces at Tolemaida Military Base, where the elite troops who combat illegal armed groups are trained.
Panetta, accompanied by Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón, as well as by the Andean country’s top military commanders, observed the maneuvers amid blazingly hot weather, characteristic of the area of the department of Tolima (in west-central Colombia) where the base is located.
Initially, the guests observed a helicopter-borne operation and a parachute exercise, which gave way to a simulated operation to rescue kidnapping victims, in which ten commandos rappelled from a helicopter to secure an area and go on to free the hostages.
Subsequently, the commandos, transported in two helicopters, performed several disembarkation maneuvers using various techniques employed when the aircraft cannot land at a location, due to circumstances such as the difficulty of the terrain.
During the event, Panetta announced that the United States will authorize the sale to Colombia of ten helicopters, five Blackhawks and five civilian models, for the fight against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
After the maneuvers, and after Panetta personally congratulated the group of commandos who participated, the U.S. Defense Secretary had the opportunity to see the helicopter used in July 2008, when special commandos succeeded in freeing 15 FARC hostages without firing a shot, in what was known as Operation Checkmate.
That group included, in addition to French-Colombian former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three U.S. contractors and 11 Colombian Military and police personnel, some of whom had been in the FARC’s power for ten years.
On April 24, the defense secretary travelled to Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro, and then to Santiago de Chile.