21 Troops Killed in Bloody Weekend of Fighting

News from Colombia | on: Monday, 24 October 2011

Over the weekend 20 Colombian troops and one policeman were killed in FARC attacks in three separate parts of the country. At least 9 other troops were wounded. The attacks demonstrate that the FARC, often consigned to the dustbin of history over their 50-year existence, retain the capacity to inflict serious losses on government forces. More than anything they serve to indicate how vital it is to bring the conflict to an end in order to halt the loss of life in this long-running conflict.

Whilst Colombian military sources and the President have attributed the losses to ‘tactical mistakes’ this is to miss the broader point, which is that the military is finding it impossible to destroy the FARC. The Minister of Defence Juan Carlos Pinzon was only recently sworn in with the mission of ‘finishing off’ the FARC by reversing the perceived gains made by the guerrillas since Santos took over. These recent attacks will only increase the perception that the military are on the back foot. However, the reality is that while the latest attacks have no doubt hurt the armed forces and shocked public opinion, they do not alter the strategic balance, which is essentially one of stalemate.

This stalemate was temporarily unbalanced with the implementation of Plan Colombia after 2002, when massive investment in the military alongside US support worth a billion dollars, as well as the mass activation of paramilitary groups led to the guerrillas being pushed away from main roads and urban centres. However, after initial blows, the guerrillas have now shown that they have successfully adapted combating to a better-equipped enemy that enjoys complete air superiority. According to a report from the Arco Iris Corporation, a well known observer of the Colombian conflict, the number of combat actions is now back to levels last seen in 2002.

According to Arco Iris, Colombian military losses in 2010 were 2052 wounded and 488 killed. Arco Iris also calculates that 4036 guerrillas were killed in the same time period. According to guerrillas military casualties were actually 2078 killed and 2242 wounded, among them police and paramilitaries. Whatever the truth of the casualty figures, the fact remains that thousands of Colombians are being killed and maimed each year. Furthermore the state often uses the existence of the conflict to justify its repression of the political opposition and social movements, thus fuelling the continuing toll of human rights abuses.

All of the above underlines the importance of finding a peaceful end to the conflict, through a negotiated process between the state, the guerrillas and civil society.

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