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Cablegate: Colmil: Jtf-O Onto a More Aggressive Footing

VZCZCXYZ0010
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #1488/01 3611901
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 271901Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1560
INFO RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 8550
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ DEC LIMA 4613
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA 9855
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 5268
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC//USDP ADMIN/CHAIRS//

S E C R E T BOGOTA 011488

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/18/2016
TAGS: PGOV PREL PTER MARR CO
SUBJECT: COLMIL: JTF-O ONTO A MORE AGGRESSIVE FOOTING

Classified By: Ambassador William B. Wood
Reasons: 1.4 (b) and (d)

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

1. (S) In the Colombian military's main focus area against
the FARC, the incoming commander is planning two changes to
improve results. First, he will spread battalion formations
to widen their area of control and increase chances of enemy
contact. Second, he will create new companies dedicated to
killing specific FARC leaders. Both plans require a shift to
smaller sized units, farther from bases and with rapid
reaction capability. The strategies hold real potential to
boost military impact against FARC guerrilla tactics, but
they are riskier to troops and dependent on extra training,
mobility, and political will to endure casualties. End
Summary.

---------------------------------------
Mission 40% Met; Adjustments Now Needed
---------------------------------------

2. (C) EmbassyMilgroup met on December 14 with the new
commander of Joint Task Force Omega (JTF-O), General
Alejandro Navas, replacing General Gilberto Rocha who was
promoted to the General Staff. The Omega area -- comprising
portions of Meta, Caqueta, and Guaviare departments -- is a
region of traditional FARC concentration, where some of its
leaders hide out. It is the main focus of the Plan Patriota
campaign. The force's eight Army mobile brigades, one Navy
riverine element, and four Air Force helicopters cover 30,000
square miles, which Navas noted is 3.5 times the area of El
Salvador. With 14,500 troops, JTF-O has reduced local FARC
forces by an estimated 40% in the last two years; 1,900
terrorists have been killed, captured, or demobilized. Navas
said his goal was to eliminate 80-90% of the enemy in the
area in the next two years.

3. (S) Achieving that objective will require the Colombian
Army to change from its traditional deployment at battalion
scale. Army concentration makes it easy for the FARC to
track its movements (via observation, signals interception,
or infiltration) while keeping its own forces at a safe
distance and moving its leaders out of danger. Navas
sketched a diagram of how the FARC surrounds its leaders with
rings of protective forces. As a result, the Army comes into
contact with minor elements of outer scouts and sentries. To
penetrate those rings, the Army must move in units that are
smaller and nimbler than battalions.

--------------------------
Widening Battalions' Reach
--------------------------

4. (S) As the former commander of JTF-O's rapid response
force, Navas knows the theater and comes to JTF-O command
with his own ideas on counterguerrilla combat. The first of
these is a method he calls the "active neutralization of
critical areas," involving an expanded layout of forces with
platoons sent further afield to rotate around the main camp.
Widening each battalion's radius of operations will expand
its footprint and multiply offensive contact with the
guerrillas. As seen in several costly encounters for the
military with the FARC in 2006, soldiers operating at platoon
scale will be more exposed to enemy attacks, and the FARC
will seek to exploit this vulnerability.

-------------------------
New HVT-Focused Companies
-------------------------

5. (S) Navas' second initiative is the creation of new
companies to target FARC leaders. President Uribe has made
this a priority, but the military has failed to achieve
results due to slow response times and poor operational
security. In Navas' plan, each of JTF-O's eight brigades
will form a "reconnaissance and destruction" company of
128-152 men, each to operate against a named FARC leader.
The goal is to move rapidly in response to timely
intelligence and to insert within 10 km of the target with
greater operational security. In practice mobility depends
on availability of scarce air assets. Company sized units
also cannot move with complete stealth. Milgroupasseses
that FARC Secretariat members may remain the domain of more
nimble special forces, while the new units may achieve
results against mid-level leaders.

6. (S) The plan's success relies on factors which the U.S.
can help support. Navas is expecting to increase his number
of helicopters from four to six, taking two of eight Black
Hawks arriving soon. Communications are critical, and the
U.S. has supplied a radio network to enable the new missions.
Friendly fire is a risk among converging small units,
especially during night operations. Navas has also pushed
for more timely intelligence from Bogota headquarters, as
well as for direct online access to data through the
U.S.-built intelligence communications computer system. The
general has initiated hiring of demobilized guerrillas to be
integrated into the companies. The U.S. will play an
essential role in the training of the new units; the
Milgroup's training teams are now designing a specialized
one-month program to kick off in February 2007.

------------------
Rewards vs. Risks?
------------------

7. (C) Embassy has long counseled the COLMIL to adapt to
FARC irregular warfare. Smaller units made up of the very
best soldiers could move more rapidly and be sequestered for
operational security. Navas' plans could measurably increase
effectiveness if well implemented. However, more dispersed
deployment also implies greater exposure of troops to enemy
fire, without the mobility and extensive backup called for in
U.S. doctrine. These strategies depend on quick reaction,
solid communications and coordination, and air mobility. It
remains to be seen whether Navas can summon the resources to
effect these changes and the political cover to sustain them,
how the FARC will exploit any vulnerabilities, and how many
casualties the COLMIL will suffer in exchange for gaining
ground. We will do what we can to support this tactical
shift.

WOOD

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