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Cablegate: Promising New Colmil Leadership Off to Rocky Start

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FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
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INFO RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 8301
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ OCT LIMA 4326
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA 9614
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C O N F I D E N T I A L BOGOTA 009216

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/02/2016
TAGS: PGOV PREL PTER CO
SUBJECT: PROMISING NEW COLMIL LEADERSHIP OFF TO ROCKY START


Classified By: Political Counselor John S. Creamer
Reasons: 1.4 (b) and (d)


-------
Summary
-------

1. (C) Colombia's new military high command contains a
potentially promising line-up of leaders but they are off to
a rocky start. The new COLMIL Commander's lack of tactical
experience has undermined his credibility with service chiefs
and opened the way for the Army Commander to usurp his
authority over joint commands. This in turn could complicate
the Plan Patriota campaign. End Summary.

--------------------------
Overview: New Appointments
--------------------------

2. (U) In mid-August the GOC and COLMIL ushered in new
leadership to the military high command. Incoming Defense
Minister Juan Manuel Santos tapped General Freddy Padilla as
Armed Forces Commander. Santos named the service chiefs as
follows: General Mario Montoya remains as Army Commander;
Vice Admiral Guillermo Enrique Barrera assumes the Navy
command; General Jorge Ballesteros takes charge of the Air
Force; and General Jorge Daniel Castro remains as Police
director. In mid-September, the COLMIL announced the
transfer of Joint Task Force Omega commander General Gilberto
Rocha to an unspecified position, along with the accelerated
field deployment of 58 new officers to alleviate acute COLAR
command shortages.

------------------------------------------
Santos: Civ/Mil Relations and Public Image
------------------------------------------

3. (C) The appointment of Juan Manuel Santos as Minister of
Defense may bode well for COLMIL relations with the
government and the Colombian public. As founder of the U
party and a cousin of the Vice President, Santos is well
connected to President Uribe. This may allow him greater
ministerial autonomy, buffering Uribe's tendency to
micro-manage field commanders, a regular source of past
friction. Santos is believed to aspire to the presidency in
2010 and may be more results oriented and press-seeking than
his more reclusive predecessor. However, Santos' personal
ambition also risks provoking resentment within the military
and/or resistance from political rivals.

------------------------
Padilla: Early Stumbling
------------------------

4. (C) Like Santos, new Armed Forces Commander GEN Padilla
is a political operator. However, his tactical command has
been limited to engineering and intelligence brigades.
Padilla has served mainly in staff officer roles, including
as Joint Staff Chief, and is the Army's highest-ranking
officer. Padilla is seen as a politician and planner likely
to focus on strategic joint staff issues like budgeting,
personnel, and doctrinal reform while leaving operations to
the field command. Still, that formula does not appear to be
working for Padilla so far. In a recent meeting with Santos
and his service chiefs, his operational inexperience led
Padilla to make foolish remarks, denting his credibility.
The Defense Minister later rejected every one of Padilla's
recommendations.

----------------------
COLAR Command Tensions
----------------------

5. (C) Santos reportedly strongly dislikes Army Commander
GEN Montoya. Padilla and Montoya are opposites in
personality. Padilla is reflective and intellectual, while
Montoya is brusque and aggressive. Their skills could be
complementary, with Padilla focused on institutional
priorities while allowing Montoya to run his command. In
practice, however, Montoya appears to be usurping Padilla's
authority and assuming joint command functions, something he
was unable to do under former Armed Forces Commander GEN
Ospina, due to the latter's field expertise. Montoya has few
friends among his fellow service chiefs, and his behavior
could cause rifts. While Padilla is likely to retain Plan
Patriota's focus on high value targets (HVTs) and support
Joint Task Force Omega, Montoya is a more conventional combat
officer who may seek to undermine special operations.

------------------------------
Rocha: Annointed or Sidelined?
------------------------------

6. (C) In mid-September, the COLMIL announced additional
promotions related to Joint Task Force Omega (JTF-O) which
may signal a cascade of changes in 2007. Current commander
General Gilberto Rocha will be transferred in December to an
unspecified position, handing over his command to his former
FUDRA (rapid response unit) commander GEN Navas, who in turn
will be replaced by new war college grad COL (promotable to
GEN) Leyseca. Rocha's availability might confirm rumors that
the COLAR's current Padilla-Montoya partnership may be of
limited duration.

WOOD

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