Small Wars Journal

Colombia's Gamble

Sun, 06/05/2011 - 1:10pm
Colombia's Gamble

by Colonel Bob Killebrew

Download the Full Article: Colombia's Gamble

While everybody is watching the dramatic events in the Middle East and the allied campaign in Afghanistan, a nation to our South is quietly writing new chapters in counterinsurgency practices. That state is, of course, Colombia, coming back from the brink of dissolution a decade ago. With great effort it has succeeded in halting and reversing the threat of guerrilla movements that once threatened its civil life. But as a consequence of success, its government and security services are now grappling with another challenge -- to wind the war down and in the process to rebuild a stronger civil society.

No responsible Colombian would claim today that the war is over. Though the main guerrilla group, the Fuerzas Armedas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), which is deeply involved in the narcotics trade, has been substantially defeated and no longer threatens the government, it still retains capability to terrorize and dominate remote areas. Additionally, a new class of violent criminal bands, variously called "Bandas Criminales" or "Bacrim," has emerged from the breakup of right-wing militias in the '90s to join the drug trade and ally themselves with the Mexican cartels. Colombian police now consider the Bacrim to be a more significant threat to Colombia than the FARC. Additionally, a Colombian defense official recently noted that, in some ways, this stage of the counterinsurgency campaign is tougher since the various guerrilla and criminal groups, now under increasing pressure from government troops and police, are operating in smaller, more hard-core bands and present more fleeting targets for police and military forces. Military and police strategies are adapting to these new conditions, but at this point it is not the military's operations per se that are especially remarkable; both the military and police have evolved into professional, competent services. What is remarkable is the manner in which Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR) has become such an integral part of Colombia's military strategy for ending its long-running insurgency.

Download the Full Article: Colombia's Gamble

About the Author(s)

Colonel (USA ret) Bob Killebrew writes and consults on national defense issues as a Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. His most recent writings include The Crossover of Urban Gang Warfare and Terrorism (National Strategy Forum, Fall 2008) and Terror at the Border for Armed Forces Journal, December, 2008. With Jennifer Bernal he authored the CNAS study Crime Wars; Gangs, Cartels and U.S. National Security, published in 2010. He is currently working with Matthew Irvine on U.S. – Colombian security policy.


Dr. Robert J. Bunker (not verified)

Sun, 06/05/2011 - 1:19pm

I very much enjoyed the author's overview and analysis. While great strides have been made in Colombia the rise of the "Bacrim" (urban gangs) is most troubling. The more decentralized and networked these criminal insurgent threats become the harder it will be to respond to them per the Colonel. What is also of interest is the Colombian groups that have moved into Central America in addition to the Mexican cartels and the Los Angeles (now indigenous) Maras.