More than two weeks after Colombia's military incursion into Ecuadoran territory to take out Raul Reyes, a top-ranking leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), voices are being raised about possible US complicity or direction in the hit. On March 9,Simon Romero in the New York Times took a tentative stab at it, noting a similarity between the tactics of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and his pal George Bush—e.g. Washington's nearly identical hit on supposed al-Qaeda militant Abu Laith al-Libi in Pakistan last month…
The raid was one of the most controversial chapters of Plan Colombia, the American program that has disbursed more than $5 billion in aid to Colombia since the late 1990s. And in carrying out the operation without getting Ecuador's permission beforehand, Mr. Uribe took a page from the Bush administration's playbook.
The predawn operation bears remarkable similarities to one carried out in late January by the United States in Pakistan. In that case, the Central Intelligence Agency used a Predator drone aircraft to drop missiles, killing Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior commander of Al Qaeda who had hidden from American officials for years.
Both operations used local informants to track the men down. Both operations were carried out in foreign countries without getting permission beforehand. Both were tactical victories, killing enemies classified as terrorists.
James Brittain on Upside Down World March 13 takes a more aggressive tack ("Was the U.S. Involved in Killing the FARC-EP Leaders?"). He asks some questions that we've been wondering about—like, what kind of aircraft was used in the hit? And does Colombia have the capability? (Why haven't news accounts even been asking this?) Sifting through the available data on the mechanics of the strike, Brittain comes up with this:
When asked if the Uribe and Santos administration had informed Washington preceding the transgression on Ecuadorian soil, Tom Casey, a spokesman for the US State Department, hesitantly stated "No, I'm not aware that we found out about this other than after the fact." Less than assuring complete impartiality, Colombia's Chief of Police, General Oscar Naranjo declared that "I can say for sure that the operation was autonomous." As General Naranjo continued his press conference he did however reveal that the United States had, in fact, been involved in operations connected to the Colombian military assault in Ecuador, albeit indirectly.
General Naranjo asserted that no external forces were involved in the FARC-EP-targeted attack but he did offer that "it is no secret that…a very strong alliance with federal agencies of the US" exists between the Colombian military. Shortly following this statement, a high ranking official within the Colombian Defense Ministry leaked that the United States had been involved in the March 1, 2008 operation. In actuality, the US, through satellite intelligence gathering over southern Colombia and Northern Ecuador, had been able to retrieve signals from the FARC-EP's 48th Front and handed over the identification of the satellite telephone being used by the insurgency to intelligence sectors of the Colombian police. The informant went on to add that it was only then that Colombian officials were able to process the data, thereby enabling the Colombian state to decipherer the exact location of Comandante Reyes. The informant's account of the satellite phone effectively mirrors that made during Defense Minister Santos’ first press conference. The leaked information demonstrated that the US was, at the very least, indirectly involved in the actions of March 1, 2008. That was until March 7, 2008.
On Friday, Ecuador's Defense Minister Wellington Sandoval announced that after further investigation of the area targeted during the March 1 attack it was revealed that the site had been bombarded with at least five bombs ("Smart Bombs"). All five detonations were within a 50-meter diameter during a nocturnal attack, a virtually impossible achievement when concerning the military capabilities and resources of the Colombian Air and Armed Forces. Sandoval claimed that the arms used during the incursion can only be deployed through the use of aircraft which have the capacity to fly at a considerable height and velocity, weaponry that is again not found within the Colombian Air Force. The only Air Force in the region with such an arsenal is the United States.
While the US and the Colombian governments claim that the United States were not involved in the attack that resulted in the death of Comandante Raúl Reyes, it is quite likely that the United States played more than an informal role in the aggression.
Brittain also asks some obvious questions about the subsequent death of FARC leader Iván Ríos —such as, what has been the fate of "Rojas," the comrade who ratted him out?
The Case of Comandante Iván Ríos (Murdered March 4, 2008 or March 7th, 2008)
On the afternoon of March 7, 2008, the country of Colombia was once again the witness of an interruption by Defense Minister Santos taking precedence on both television and radio. Similar to his announcement made six days earlier, Santos announced that a member of the FARC-EP's Secretariat had been killed. To the great surprise of many, the Defense Minister claimed that Comandante Iván Ríos had been killed by another member of the FARC-EP named Rojas (in association with two other combatants associated with the insurgency) on March 4, 2008.
The Defense Minister proceeded to tell the press that after those deemed responsible had killed Comandante Ríos they severed his right hand in order to prove to Colombian officials that the youngest member of the Secretariat was dead. It was then stated that the three insurgents took the severed limb, along with Comandante Ríos' laptop and identification and handed them over to members of the Colombian Army and the Colombian Attorney General Office’s Technical Investigation Body (Cuerpo Técnico de Investigación, CTI). During a brief press conference related to this incident, Defense Minister Santos said that the Colombian army had launched an operation designed to capture Comandante Ríos on February 17, 2008 after (again) receiving intelligence that he was located in a mountainous region in the Department of Caldas. Unlike the March 1, 2008 press conference, however, Santos did not entertain any questions or reveal any additional information other than that listed above and that Comandante Iván Ríos had been officially pronounced dead.
Confusion immediately began to envelop the events presented by Defense Minister Santos. The reason for the uncertainty was that previous to the "official" pronouncement of Comandante Ríos death another state official within the Prosecutors Office of Colombia had given a different account concerning the death of the FARC-EP leader.
An anonymous official had prematurely contacted the press and reported that Comandante Ríos had been killed on March 7, 2008 during an attack carried out by a unit of the Colombian Army in conjunction with members of the CTI in Aguadas, just outside the Samaná Municipality within the department of Caldas. This again mirrors events as revealed in the case of Comandante Reyes death; intelligence provided to state officials, upper level official presenting sanitized sanctioned accounts explaining the deaths of the FARC-EP’s high command, and lower-level officials disseminating alternative accounts of the actual on goings during said transgressions.
Another strange complexity related to Comandante Ríos' death is simply, where is Rojas? One would think that the state would put forth details concerning who Comandante Ríos’ murderer was, what his social background or personal identification is, how the killing occurred, what has happened to Rojas, etc. Interestingly, however, nothing related to the above queries concerning Rojas were released.
Brittain perhaps underestimates the potential for internecine intrigues within the FARC apparatus:
If Comandante Ríos was, in fact, murdered by Rojas, such events surrounding the death are quite perplexing due to the actual structure and formation of the FARC-EP. It is difficult to understand how one FARC-EP combatant let alone three were capable of breaking rank [sic] and violently reacting against not only a highly-ranked officer but a leader within the FARC-EP's Secretariat. Each Comandante associated with the Secretariat has a cadre of more than a dozen immediate personnel which are not only responsible for the Comandante’s protection but oversee the on goings of the guerrilla camp in which the leader is situated. From first-hand experience, all meetings and interactions with the Comandante are coordinated each day and formally scheduled. Prior to each meeting, the party invited must wait and ask for approval to enter the Comandante's barracks. Once approval has been arranged it is only then that a member is escorted into the Comandante's quarters by at least one other armed guard. How is it then that not only one but three armed FARC-EP combatants were able to violently enter into Comandante's Ríos’ barracks directly in front of an entire FARC-EP Front, which includes two FARC-EP Companies and two FARC-EP Guerrilla Squads which contain, on average, at least twelve combatants per squad?
His conclusions are not surprising:
Plausible US Role in the Deaths of both Comandante Reyes and Comandante Ríos
The Bush administration has had great difficulty in getting a new Free-Trade Agreement (FTA) with Colombia passed. Internal congressional protests by sectors of the Democratic Party have opposed the legislation, due to allegations and proven atrocities committed by the paramilitaries, crimes that the Colombian state has allowed to go unpunished. Many of these politicians argue that the Colombian state and the US government and military have failed to quell the illicit drug-trade or decrease the FARC-EP's strength throughout the Colombian countryside even though billions of US dollars have been spent. Therefore, if the Bush administration was able to claim even the slightest victory over the FARC-EP than they could argue that their counter-insurgency funding has been successful and that a new FTA should be supported in Congress.
There is a distinct possibility that the United States may have been involved in the actions leading up to Comandante Ríos' death. US Special Forces and Marines have been illegally engaged in counter-insurgency campaigns within the country of Colombia for years. Even though the legal number of US troops cannot exceed 800 state forces (and 600 private forces), thousands have been operating in campaigns against the FARC-EP. For example, Peter Gorman published that as far back as 2002 roughly 1,100 US counter-insurgent troops were on "orders to eliminate all high officers of the FARC." This does not even highlight what possible actions private US-based contradicted counter-insurgent forces may be carrying out.
Examining the propaganda value of the attack to Uribe and Bush, Brittain himself sounds a bit like the FARC's PR department:
Telling the world that Comandante Ríos' was murdered by his own comrades is a tactic employed to decrease external solidarity from sectors of the international community, who may now falsely believe the argument that the largest and most powerful Marxist-Leninist revolutionary social movement in Latin America is loosing ground, power, and influence in the Colombian countryside. At the same time, such accusations are internally disseminated in the hopes of destabilizing the FARC-EP itself. Claiming the rank-and-file have abandoned the leadership and that the movement is collapsing is a strategy to destabilize the insurgency's many Squads, Companies, Columns, and Fronts.
But at least he is asking the right questions. Which is more than you can say for the justly maligned "mainstream media."