Skip to comments.Colombia: The FARC's Urban Offensive
Posted on 03/03/2003 10:38:04 AM PST by Axion
Colombia: The FARC's Urban Offensive Summary
Mar 03, 2003
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are using Bogota as a testing ground for a national urban offensive against the Colombian state and civilian population. If the strategy succeeds, Colombia's cities could be shattered by a wave of large bomb attacks.
While Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez steps up his military offensive against rebels and paramilitary groups in oil-rich Arauca Department, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are taking the war to Bogota.
Between December 2002 and Feb. 7, 2003, when a car bomb destroyed Bogota's exclusive El Nogal Club, government security forces deactivated 12 car bombs, seized six tons of explosives and captured eight homemade mortars aimed at public buildings in Bogota, according to Colombian news reports. And three hours before the El Nogal bombing, security forces seized five anti-tank rocket-launchers that FARC urban commandos allegedly planned to use in attacks against the U.S. Embassy, the attorney general's offices and the Defense Ministry.
The FARC's offensive in Bogota marks a new phase in the rebel group's war against the Colombian state: the use of large bombs against civilians in crowded public areas. Until recently, the guerrilla group waged its campaign for political legitimacy through attacks against military or police targets or by bombing bridges, pylons and oil pipelines. However, the destruction of the El Nogal Club confirms an important -- and deadly --shift in the FARC's use of explosives. By attacking the populace of Bogota with both large car bombs and small devices, such as briefcase bombs, the FARC apparently is waging a wider and more exteme campaign designed to cause panic, demoralize the public and undermine support for President Alvaro Uribe Velez.
As the FARC's urban teams gain more experience in Bogota, it is likely that bombs will start going off in other Colombian cities as well. For instance, Colombian security forces on Feb. 10 seized several ice cream trucks packed with explosives in the city of Barranquilla.
The FARC's senior command has assigned a high priority to its urban offensive in Bogota. The El Nogal attack and other recent FARC actions -- including a briefcase bomb that exploded at a restaurant in a hotel where legislators stay during the congressional session, and the mortars fired in downtown Bogota during the Uribe administration's inauguration ceremonies in August -- were carried out by elite urban groups under the direct command of Manuel Marulanda and Jorge Briceno, according to Bogota daily El Espectador.
Both the FARC's First Front and the Teofilo Forero Mobile Column, an elite rapid-deployment unit reportedly under the direct command of Briceno (also known as Mono Jojoy), are supplying bomb-makers and mortar manufacturers for the attacks in Bogota, according to Colombian military intelligence sources.
Colombian military intelligence sources also believe the FARC has about 400 trained urban commandos deployed in Bogota and other cities. Of this number, between 30 and 50 rebels broken up into at least 10 to 15 cells have been deployed into Bogota since mid-2002 for the specific purpose of planning and executing attacks like the one against the El Nogal Club.
The cells are difficult to penetrate because they operate independently, and members of one cell have no contact with members of any others. Instead, they take orders directly from Briceno through two of his handpicked lieutenants, sources tell Stratfor.
Colombian intelligence sources also say they believe the FARC has recruited about 200 students from public and private universities into its networks in Bogota and other cities. University students participated in the attack on El Nogal and other attacks since last August in Bogota. The inclusion of middle-class university students also gives the FARC more direct access to potential targets where Colombian business and political elites tend to concentrate.
The average rural FARC fighter would have difficulty blending in with middle- and upper-class Colombians in urban settings, but more polished and educated university students generally blend right in. This makes it easier for the FARC to conduct surveillance of potential targets, to gather intelligence and to prepare and execute attacks.
The FARC also uses bomb-manufacturing skills and urban terrorism techniques that it is believed to have learned since 1998 from Irish Republican Army and ETA militants, Colombian government sources say. These skills extend from building large car bombs that can be rigged for remote-controlled and electronic detonation to small briefcase and book bombs. They also include improvements in manufacturing homemade mortars that can launch explosive charges over distances of several hundred yards.
Colombian Defense Minister Marta Lucia Ramirez acknowledged recently that there is no proof of international links between the FARC and groups like the IRA and ETA. However, the circumstantial evidence of such links is quite persuasive, since three suspected IRA members reportedly well-versed in making bombs and mortars were arrested in Colombia more than a year ago after spending months inside the FARC-controlled DMZ.
FARC leaders know they don't have the personnel or resources to fight an urban guerrilla war with conventional arms or large units. However, with trained bomb-makers and mortar men grouped into small, clandestine cells, the organization might gain significant mobility and strategic advantages in an urban setting -- where the rebels are numerically outnumbered by government security forces and the civilian population is overwhelmingly hostile to the rebels.
The FARC's new bomb-manufacturing skills and young, polished operatives potentially could give Colombia's largest rebel group some international mobility it previously lacked. As the United States continues to expand its military footprint in Colombia, the FARC might decide to exploit that mobility by sending its bomb-makers on missions to neighboring countries.
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The 17,000-member Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is Latin America's largest and most powerful insurgency. On Feb. 24, it announced the capture of three Americans seized after their plane went down in southern Colombia. The guerrillas say they shot down the plane and that the captives are CIA employees. U.S. officials insist the aircraft had mechanical trouble. The bodies of two other passengers, an American and a Colombian, were found near the wreckage of the aircraft, which was pocked with machine-gun and rocket fire. Both men had been shot. [End]