According to a secret study released by the WikiLeaks group on Dec. 18, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) considers the killing of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) second-in-command Raúl Reyes by Colombian forces in Ecuadorian territory on Mar. 1, 2008 an example of ways that assassinations of rebel leaders "can play a useful role." In addition to the Reyes case, the paper reviews the use of "high-value targeting (HVT)"—the killing or capture of top leaders—in fighting rebels in Afghanistan, Algeria, Colombia, Iraq, Israel, Peru, Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka. HTV can have "negative effects," the study concludes, but the practice can "contribute to successful counterinsurgency outcomes" if used strategically. The July 9, 2009 study, marked "secret" and "NOFORN" ("no foreign nationals"), is entitled "Making High-Value Targeting Operations an Effective Counterinsurgency Tool"; it apparently forms part of a "Best Practices in Counterinsurgency" series.
Reyes, the FARC's chief spokesperson and negotiator, was killed when the Colombian military launched a nighttime air raid and then an incursion against a rebel encampment in Ecuador's northeastern Sucumbíos province about three kilometers from the Colombian border. Some 19 FARC members were killed in the operation, as were four Mexican students who had been visiting the encampment while in Ecuador to attend a leftist conference. Although the Colombian government and the media treated the attack as a simple raid against a group of rebels, the CIA study refers to it as part of a number of "successful HVT strikes against top insurgent leaders in early 2008, in conjunction with earlier strikes against second and third-tier leaders and finance and logistics specialists." Reyes' death "is likely to have seriously damaged FARC discipline and morale, even among its leadership, according to a CIA field commentary." As an example of the operation's success, the CIA noted that "[p]ublic support for the Colombian government solidified in the wake of the killing…with President Alvaro Uribe's approval rating increasing from the mid-70% range to as high as 84%."
The study treats the Reyes killing as a strictly Colombian operation, although there have been reports that in fact the Colombians dropped US "smart bombs" and that an HC-130 airplane, used for refueling helicopters, took off from the US base then at Manta, Ecuador, just hours before the attack. The FARC itself claimed in a March 14 communiqué that the US Southern Command had led the operation. Theoretically US agencies are not allowed to participate in targeted assassinations. Executive Order 12333, signed by President Ronald Reagan on Dec. 4, 1981, states: "No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination." (La Jornada, Mexico, Dec. 19)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, December 28.