Cablegate: Colombia Military Progress: Slow but Steady

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

id: 20913
date: 9/23/2004 21:35
refid: 04BOGOTA9699
origin: Embassy Bogota
classification: SECRET//NOFORN
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

----------------- header ends ----------------

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 BOGOTA 009699



E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/22/2014

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Milton K. Drucker for reasons
1.5 (b) and (d).


1. (S) The Colombian Military (COLMIL) continues to make
progress combating illegal armed groups. The number of
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), National
Liberation Army (ELN), United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia
(AUC), and smaller illegal armed group members killed,
captured, or deserting is on the rise. COLMIL intelligence
figures show that all but the AUC have been unable to
replenish their forces at the same rate they are being lost.
To replace troop depletions, the FARC and ELN are exhausting
their strategic reserves of personnel, which the COLMIL
anticipates could deal both groups a devastating blow in the
long term. End Summary.

--------------------------------------------- -----
Illegal Armed Group Membership Declining Gradually
--------------------------------------------- -----

2. (S) In August, the Colombian military (COLMIL) released a
report outlining its progress against the country's three
major terrorist organizations -- the Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army
(ELN), and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC)
-- and smaller illegal armed groups. According to the
report, in the first seven months of 2004 COLMIL forces
captured, killed, or received as deserters 3,147 FARC
insurgents (roughly 24 percent of total combatants), 605 ELN
insurgents (roughly 16 percent of total combatants), 1,999
AUC fighters (roughly 15 percent of total combatants), and 67
insurgents from smaller illegal armed groups (roughly 16
percent of total combatants). Despite this apparent
progress, data from the same period indicates that illegal
armed groups replenished most of these losses through
additional recruitment. Taking replacement rates into
account, FARC membership declined by only about 6 percent,
ELN membership by about 3 percent, and smaller groups by
about 3 percent. In contrast, the AUC replaced troops faster
than they were eliminated, growing by about 7 percent. As
the number of illegal combatants who desert or are captured
increases, so does the financial burden on the GOC to
imprison or reinsert them. Illegal armed groups, on the
other hand -- particularly the FARC and ELN -- recruit with
few financial obligations.

AUC Growth

3. (S) The COLMIL attributes paramilitary expansion to
aggressive recruitment. The AUC is boosting its numbers to
gain leverage in negotiations with the GOC and increasing
combat operations against the FARC, ELN, and dissident
paramilitary groups in struggles over lucrative drug
production territories. Many new AUC recruits are attracted
by the potential benefits of a reinsertion program, and
paramilitary recruiters have succeeded in downplaying the
dangers of joining by pointing to the COLMIL's focus on the
FARC in its Plan Patriota Phase IIB operation in southeastern

Long-Term Damage to the FARC and ELN

4. (S) The COLMIL maintains that the FARC and ELN are
exhausting their strategic reserves to replenish blocs
depleted by COLMIL offensives. FARC reserves include Popular
and Bolivarian militias that provide logistics,
communications, and re-supply support, primarily from urban
areas. The FARC is replacing casualties and deserters with
Bolivarian forces, which, unlike the popular militias, have
some military training. COLMIL leadership does not believe
the FARC and ELN have sufficient recruiting and training
assets to replenish strategic reserve forces at the same rate
they are depleted, a trend that could deal a devastating blow
to both groups in the long term. Although the FARC continues
to forcibly recruit from the rural population, increased
security and COLMIL civic action projects have hindered its
freedom to do so. The new police presence in municipalities
that historically lacked a government security presence is
also eliminating sources of recruitment. The COLMIL asserts
that, in contrast with a year ago, the ELN can no longer
maintain a positive recruitment rate and cannot effectively
combat AUC or FARC fronts without opportunistic assistance
from one or the other.

5. (C) The COLMIL continues to aggressively target FARC
leaders, further weakening the insurgency. Less experienced
leaders have replaced skilled mid- and upper-level combat
commanders, finance chiefs, and general staff members. Since
the beginning of the year, the COLMIL has killed the 52nd
Front Commander, two 22nd Front Deputy Commanders (both
replacements to previous commanders who were killed in
action), the 27th Front Finance Chief, the Amazonas Front
Finance Chief, a Northwestern Bloc General Staff Member, and
Ricardo Morantes, alias "Pacho Arenas," a member of the
General Central Staff and son of deceased FARC ideologue
Jacobo Arenas. The FARC has lost almost 50 mid-level combat
leaders and financiers since July 2003. While the FARC can
replace the rank-and-file with strategic reserve forces and
some forced recruitment, the loss of these mid-level combat
commanders has had a significant adverse impact on the FARC.

6. (S) Among the FARC leaders captured this year, three will
be especially difficult to replace given their longevity,
experience and organizational knowledge. General Staff
member and key financial adviser Ricardo Palmera, alias
"Simon Trinidad," was captured in Ecuador on January 2. He
was a former combat commander in Caribbean Bloc and served as
one of five designated FARC negotiators and spokesmen during
peace negotiations with the Pastrana Administration.
Captured on February 10, the 14th Front's Finance Chief and
20-year FARC combatant Nayibe Rojas Valderrama alias "Sonia,"
has extensive knowledge of FARC Southern Bloc finances,
plans, and operations and valuable insight into FARC
Secretariat plans and intentions, possibly including

information about the U.S. hostages. Her arrest likely
created a void in the Southern Bloc's operations and
logistical network. On August 29, FARC 56th Front Commander
Jorge Eliecer Jimenez, alias "Geronimo", was captured in
Casanare Department. Geronimo is believed responsible for
the 1999 murders of three American Indian activists and the
execution of at least 69 Colombian soldiers and a local mayor.

7. (C) We believe COLMIL operations in 2004 have weakened
FARC and ELN forces, but a continued decline depends on
sustainability of the military offensive and the ability of
the GOC to hold territory after it has been cleared of
illegal armed groups. The FARC and ELN appear to be trying
to wait out Government forces, engaging in minimal direct
combat, and drawing from their strategic reserves to keep
their principal blocs in operation.

=======================CABLE ENDS============================

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