23 Soldiers Killed in Upsurge in FARC Attacks in Colombia

News from Colombia | on: Thursday, 14 August 2008

Several regions of Colombia have seen heavy combat in recent weeks as leftwing FARC guerrillas launched a series of bloody attacks on units of the Colombian security forces. In one incident members of the FARC's 51st front shot down a military helicopter, killing the three soldiers on board.

The most recent attack occurred on August 10th near the village of Campoalegre in the central Colombian department of Caldas where soldier Lucas Santana Smith was killed after guerrillas of the FARC's 47th front ambushed the 8th Counter-Guerrilla Battalion of the Colombian Army's 8th Brigade. The same day, in the southern department of Putumayo, police officer Jose Rodrigo Duque was killed in the Valle del Guamez area, a long-time FARC stronghold.

On August 8th fighting between guerrillas and troops of the 'Magdalena' Battalion of the Army saw soldier Jimmy Perdomo Gutierrez killed in the municipality of San Agustin in the central department of Huila.

Four days previous to that, Lieutenant Colonel Carlos Gutierrez and two other military officers were killed after the helicopter that they were travelling in was brought down by members of the FARC's 51st front near the town of Melgar in Tolima department. The attack, on a Colombian Air Force 'Ranger' helicopter, occurred a short distance from one of Colombia's largest military bases, known as Tolemaida, where US military advisers are stationed.

July 30th saw soldier Alfonso Dario Ospino killed in the municipality of Aguachica in Cesar department by members of the FARC's 59th front. Two days ealier the same front killed two other soldiers in the nearby municipality of Villanueva.

July 24th/25th saw a further six soldiers killed in the department of Arauca on Colombia's border with Venezuela, a long-time stronghold of the FARC's 10th front. In the first attack Hernando Otero Huertas, Reynel Luna Gomez and Edwin Humberto Romero, all from the 18th Brigade, were killed after an ambush outside the village of El Paraiso in Arauquita municipality. A further nine troops were wounded. The second attack, a day later, took place in the neighbouring municipality of Tame when three more troops were killed and five wounded – all from the 27th Counter-Guerrilla Battalion.

July 18th also saw two attacks; one in the town of Paez in Cauca department where FARC militia units killed police commander Guillermo Saenz Miranda and police officer Roberto Rengifo Montes, and another in the municipality of Caceres in Antioquia department where the 36th Front killed Sergeant Robison Rodriguez Lucumi and soldiers Jaider Luis Anaya Solano and Jacob Angel Lopez Oviedo of the 'Calibio' Battalion of the Colombian Army.

A further attack, on July 9th, saw three more soldiers killed by a FARC mobile column on the road between the cities of Cali and Buenaventura in southwest Colombia. Those killed were Guillermo Murcia Mendoza, Aristaison Rodriguez Guevara and Jhon Ferney Castro, all from the 'Vencedores de Cartago' Battalion.

According to Canadian Professor James J. Brittain, an expert on the FARC and the Colombian conflict, recent claims by some observers that the guerrillas are being defeated militarily are premature:

"Between the 29th of April and the 6th of May the FARC-EP carried out a coordinated series of attacks which isolated sectors of Colombia's largest oil pipeline and subsequently halted the production of an estimated eight-hundred thousand to three-million barrels of oil. In addition, the guerrilla strategically destroyed important transportation routes needed to control the flow of oil and military supplies throughout various departments in the north of the country. Destroying an essential bridge near Catatumbo in the department of César, the FARC-EP was able to severe the movement of state and private security forces thereby keeping existing military units preoccupied (Weinberg, 2008).

"Following the offence, another Front in Norte de Santander pursued an aggressive attack against security forces guarding the 770 kilometre Colombian-based Ecopetrol and US-based Occidental Petroleum owned Caño-Limón pipeline near Tibu – the true target of the attack. Ironically, all this took place just a few short hours after William Brownfield, the United States' Ambassador to Colombia, visited the area and applauded the growth in security and economic progress as a result of the FARC-EP's so-called decline (Reuters, 2008a).

"In response to the FARC-EP's strike, Colombian General Paulino Coronado coordinated a mounted offensive on 3rd of May to eliminate the FARC-EP attack and resume the flow of oil production. The guerrilla quickly eliminated the deployed battalion and continued their assault on the pipeline facilities for an additional forty-eight hours (Associated Press, 2008).

"Showing that their campaign targeting the Caño-Limón pipeline was not simply a one-time tactical success, the FARC-EP carried out an additional attack on Colombia's largest coal mine – the Cerrejón – on the forty-fourth anniversary of insurgency's inception. On 27th of May 2008, roughly one month after the transgressions aimed at oil production took place, the guerrilla again targeted attacks against exploitive multinational corporations and state-infrastructure involved in the region by derailing "around 40 wagons out of the 120-wagon train, carrying 110 tonnes of coal" (Reuters, 2008b).

"While officials tried to downplay the extensive damage it was quickly revealed that the FARC-EP had considerably hampered trading by destabilizing entire export routes (Reuters, 2008c).

"These are but two actions where the FARC-EP demonstrated their continued military capacity to respond to both state and private security forces in relation to corporate interests. Most interesting, however, was that the coordinated FARC-EP campaigns silenced many officials from both the Colombian and US state. Many have perceived sectors of Colombia's north to be economically sheltered as sectors of the country's south have appeared to be the centre of FARC-EP activities; however, the above events demonstrated that FARC-EP support and capacity go far beyond that mentioned in the popular press.

"As Colombia's own Interior Minister Carlos Holguin announced, Colombia should not dream or come close to proclaiming a victory over the FARC-EP just yet (see Otis, 2008)."

Other analysts have also documented an increase in the intensity of the Colombian conflict, and the continuing tragic loss of life that has resulted. It is therefore all the more important that the calls made by Colombian civil society for immediate peace negotiations, and a humanitarian accord, are heeded.

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