[Marxism] Colombia Struggles to Contain FARC in Cauca

Greg McDonald gregmc59 at gmail.com
Sun Jul 17 06:14:21 MDT 2011

Interesting article, notwithstanding its political bent, but maybe it
is even more compelling due to its political opposition to the FARC,
given the conclusions it reaches regarding the increased tactical and
urban fighting capability of the latter.

Greg McDonald


Tuesday, 12 July 2011 16:12

Colombia Struggles to Contain FARC in Cauca

Written by  Elyssa Pachico

Colombia Struggles to Contain FARC in Cauca

Guerrilla group the FARC appear to have retaken the initiative in
southwest Colombia, where government forces are struggling to contain
them. The rebels' increased reliance on militias, who operate in
civilian clothing, could force the government to adopt more extreme

Simultaneous attacks by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) over the weekend
in the southwest Cauca department left at least six people dead and
about 80 wounded. Now, the head of Colombia's security forces says he
will oversee operations in the embattled region, where the 29th
Brigade is already based. This includes the 4th Mountain Battalion,
which is responsible for securing the region's south.

The guerrilla attacks have been concentrated in an approximate 100
mile radius in northern Cauca. The government has said that it is on
the verge of capturing top FARC leader Guillermo Leon Saenz Vargas,
alias "Alfonso Cano," who is believed to have found refuge in the
mountain range that splits Cauca from neighboring departments Tolima
and Huila. It is possible that the aggressive car bomb attacks and
road ambushes now hitting Cauca are meant to distract the security
forces as Saenz rests and regroups his forces.

However, government claims to be on the verge of closing in on Saenz
are nothing new. President Juan Manuel Santos made similar statements
in February, after authorities arrested then killed the FARC leader's
two top security chiefs. The Joint Task Force of Southern Tolima, a
military unit activated in April 2010 with the stated goal of
eliminating Saenz, have clearly been applying pressure on the rebel
leader's inner circle, leaving him more exposed. His last head of
security was in command for just under two months before he was killed
on June 6, pointing to a high turnover rate among the rebel leader's
closest fighters. Still, the political windfall that would come from
killing Saenz means the Santos administration could be overstating how
close they are to capturing him.

The current violence in Cauca, then, may have little to do with
Saenz's current movements. The FARC's Central Bloc, controlled by
Saenz, and the Joint Western Command, led by Jorge Torres Victoria,
alias "Pablo Catatumbo," are the rebel units currently causing the
most havoc in Cauca. Yet historically, they are the weakest units in
the FARC, both in terms of military and financial power, compared to
the much more powerful Eastern and Southern Blocs.

That the Central Bloc and Western Command are making the strongest
offensive against the security forces, compared to the much quieter
Eastern and Southern Blocs, is an indication of Saenz's willingness to
take on the heaviest of the FARC's fighting. When he first assumed
control of the FARC's ruling body, the Secretariat, in 2008, he was
best known as a political organizer and an ideologue within the
guerrilla ranks. At the time, there were doubts about his ability to
inspire and lead the FARC's more traditional military wing.

The current violence in Cauca is then a product of Saenz's willingness
to engage in heavy combat while the Eastern and Southern Blocs
concentrate on the cocaine trade. It is also a signal, in part, of his
success in rebuilding the FARC as a classic hit-and-run guerrilla
force. Last year the armed forces suffered casualty rates approaching
those seen at the peak of the FARC's power in 2002. Under Saenz's
command, the FARC have been able to evolve their combat style, and now
operate in small cells, sometimes of no more than two or three
combatants. Snipers and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), deployed
to great effect in Cauca, have now become the guerrillas' most
effective weapons.

Cauca is vital for the FARC's interests. It is a key drug trafficking
corridor, connecting inland coca-covered mountains to the Pacific
coast. The need to secure this corridor is one reason why the FARC are
intent on rebuilding their military capability in this department.
They have been able to do so by evolving their fighting style, under
Saenz's guidance. The guerrillas have stepped up the recruitment of
militiamen, part-time fighters operating out-of-uniform in urban
areas, instead of the full-time, traditional fighters based in the

As the attacks in Cauca show, the FARC are operating less like a
conventional, insurgent force, and this is bad news for an army highly
trained in traditional, counterinsurgent warfare. Colombia's security
forces need to evolve their tactics in tandem with the rebels, and
improve their abilities to collect solid, actionable intelligence that
would allow the police to target the FARC's urban militia networks.
But as the sustained violence in Cauca illustrates, the security
forces are still lagging one step behind the rebels.

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