Pentagon moves ahead with Colombian bases plan

US military agencies in September 2010 signed contracts for construction at Tolemaida, Larandia and Málaga bases in Colombia worth nearly $5 million, according to documents obtained by the anti-war group Fellowship of Reconciliation. US military contracts for Tolemaida in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 were larger than the last four years combined.

The contracts included two for an “Advanced Operations Base” for the US Southern Command special operations unit in Tolemaida, located south of Bogotá. The special operations unit, known as SOCSOUTH, has as its mission “the use of small units in direct or indirect military actions that are focused on strategic or operational objectives,” including “provid[ing] an immediately deployable theater crisis response force.”

Last August, Colombia’s Constitutional Court struck down the agreement that would give the United States military use of seven bases in Colombia for ten years, because the agreement was never submitted for Congressional approval or judicial review. Yet, even after the agreement was declared “non-existent” by Colombia’s highest court, the Pentagon initiated unprecedented amounts of new construction on bases in Colombia. “The contracts place in serious doubt the Pentagon’s respect for Colombian sovereignty,” writes Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Besides the contracts naming military bases, there were also military contracts for $2.5 million construction at unnamed locations in Colombia signed in September. The new contracts may have been signed in September in order to spend funds allotted for the US 2010 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. Another military construction contract described as being for “Talemaida Avaition” (sic) for $5.5 million was signed in October 2009, just days before the US and Colombia signed the military base agreement, and is scheduled to be completed by the end of this month.

FOR obtained the contract information from a public website,, that posts federal contract information, including where the contracts will be carried out.

An Army Corps of Engineers document of plans for Fiscal Year 2011 also shows plans to build integrated logistics centers in various locations in Colombia, for $14 million, apparently funded by Colombia itself, through a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) account. However, FMS projects frequently offer the United States the potential for continued access through “interoperability.” FMS projects “promote standardization (by providing customers with defense articles identical to those used by U.S. forces) [and] provide contract administration services which may not be readily available otherwise,” according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

US military increases construction in region
The Army Corps on Engineers Mobile District’s plans indicate that US military construction in Central and South America has more than doubled this year compared to 2009. This includes a SouthCom Counter-Narco-terrorism account that is funding construction in 2011 of facilities in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Ecuador and Belize, as well as a $10 million upgrade in Soto Cano, Honduras.

US construction of a base does not necessarily mean that the United States will have title to the base or keep personnel there. But it contributes to “interoperability”—that is, integration—of armed forces. Public disclosure of access agreements for US forces is key, since these will shape the terms of United States use of the military facilities.

From Bogotá to Kabul
On Sept. 30, the US military’s Transportation Command signed two contracts for “Afghanistan rotary wing pax and cargo movement”, to be carried out by the Medellin-based Vertical de Aviacion Ltda. Writes Fellowship of Reconciliation: “The contract shows how the United States is using the Colombian military to support the war in Afghanistan, which has become unpopular in the US as well as in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” US military planners have openly viewed Plan Colombia as a model for Afghanistan.

From Fellowship of Reconciliation, Jan. 27

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  1. US sends combat commanders to Colombia
    US Joint Chiefs of Staff commander General Martin Dempsey visited Colombia on March 29 to announce that within weeks US military personnel will operate from a military base there with the Colombian army’s newly formed Vulcan Task Force. The task force, established in December 2011, has 10,000 soldiers, three mobile brigades and one fixed brigade, operating from a base in TibĂş, in the Catatumbo region (North Santander), just two miles from the Venezuela border.

    On April 15, presidents Obama and Santos met during the Americas Summit and agreed on a new military regional action plan that will include training police forces in Central America and beyond. The announcement cited Operation Martillo, by which US and Colombian forces have participated in operations this year against criminal elements on the coasts and interior of Central America.

    The presence of US soldiers on the military base in TibĂş was presented by Gen. Dempsey as an effort by the United States to support Colombia in its fight against drug trafficking and the insurgency. According to Dempsey, the Pentagon plans by June to send U.S. brigade commanders with practical experience in Afghanistan and Iraq to work with police and army combat units that will be deployed in areas controlled by the rebels. Dempsey said that US military personnel will not participate in combat operations in Colombia.

    The Wall Street Journal reported March 30 that Colombia has established its own version of US joint special operations commands that carry out hunt-and-kill missions. With these special commandos, Colombia hopes to reach its goal of reducing the FARC guerrillas by 50% in two years. (Fellowship of Reconciliation via UDW, May 21)