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Viewing cable 06BOGOTA11488, COLMIL: JTF-O ONTO A MORE AGGRESSIVE FOOTING

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06BOGOTA11488 2006-12-27 19:07 2011-03-02 12:12 SECRET Embassy Bogota
Appears in these articles:
http://www.elespectador.com/wikileaks
VZCZCXYZ0010
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #1488/01 3611901
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 271901Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1560
INFO RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 8550
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ DEC LIMA 4613
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA 9855
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 5268
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC//USDP ADMIN/CHAIRS//
S E C R E T BOGOTA 011488 

SIPDIS 

SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/18/2016 
TAGS: PGOV PREL PTER MARR CO
SUBJECT: COLMIL: JTF-O ONTO A MORE AGGRESSIVE FOOTING 

Classified By: Ambassador William B. Wood 
Reasons: 1.4 (b) and (d) 

------- 
Summary 
------- 

1. (S)  In the Colombian military's main focus area against 
the FARC, the incoming commander is planning two changes to 
improve results.  First, he will spread battalion formations 
to widen their area of control and increase chances of enemy 
contact.  Second, he will create new companies dedicated to 
killing specific FARC leaders.  Both plans require a shift to 
smaller sized units, farther from bases and with rapid 
reaction capability.  The strategies hold real potential to 
boost military impact against FARC guerrilla tactics, but 
they are riskier to troops and dependent on extra training, 
mobility, and political will to endure casualties.  End 
Summary.

--------------------------------------- 
Mission 40% Met; Adjustments Now Needed 
--------------------------------------- 

2. (C)  EmbassyMilgroup met on December 14 with the new 
commander of Joint Task Force Omega (JTF-O), General 
Alejandro Navas, replacing General Gilberto Rocha who was 
promoted to the General Staff.  The Omega area -- comprising 
portions of Meta, Caqueta, and Guaviare departments -- is a 
region of traditional FARC concentration, where some of its 
leaders hide out.  It is the main focus of the Plan Patriota
campaign.  The force's eight Army mobile brigades, one Navy 
riverine element, and four Air Force helicopters cover 30,000 
square miles, which Navas noted is 3.5 times the area of El 
Salvador.  With 14,500 troops, JTF-O has reduced local FARC 
forces by an estimated 40% in the last two years; 1,900 
terrorists have been killed, captured, or demobilized.  Navas
said his goal was to eliminate 80-90% of the enemy in the 
area in the next two years. 

3. (S)  Achieving that objective will require the Colombian 
Army to change from its traditional deployment at battalion 
scale.  Army concentration makes it easy for the FARC to 
track its movements (via observation, signals interception, 
or infiltration) while keeping its own forces at a safe 
distance and moving its leaders out of danger.  Navas
sketched a diagram of how the FARC surrounds its leaders with 
rings of protective forces.  As a result, the Army comes into 
contact with minor elements of outer scouts and sentries.  To 
penetrate those rings, the Army must move in units that are 
smaller and nimbler than battalions. 

-------------------------- 
Widening Battalions' Reach 
-------------------------- 

4. (S)  As the former commander of JTF-O's rapid response 
force, Navas knows the theater and comes to JTF-O command 
with his own ideas on counterguerrilla combat.  The first of 
these is a method he calls the "active neutralization of 
critical areas," involving an expanded layout of forces with 
platoons sent further afield to rotate around the main camp. 
Widening each battalion's radius of operations will expand 
its footprint and multiply offensive contact with the 
guerrillas.  As seen in several costly encounters for the 
military with the FARC in 2006, soldiers operating at platoon 
scale will be more exposed to enemy attacks, and the FARC 
will seek to exploit this vulnerability. 

------------------------- 
New HVT-Focused Companies 
------------------------- 

5. (S)  Navas' second initiative is the creation of new 
companies to target FARC leaders.  President Uribe has made 
this a priority, but the military has failed to achieve 
results due to slow response times and poor operational 
security.  In Navas' plan, each of JTF-O's eight brigades 
will form a "reconnaissance and destruction" company of 
128-152 men, each to operate against a named FARC leader.
The goal is to move rapidly in response to timely 
intelligence and to insert within 10 km of the target with 
greater operational security.  In practice mobility depends 
on availability of scarce air assets.  Company sized units 
also cannot move with complete stealth.  Milgroupasseses
that FARC Secretariat members may remain the domain of more 
nimble special forces, while the new units may achieve 
results against mid-level leaders. 

6. (S)  The plan's success relies on factors which the U.S. 
can help support.  Navas is expecting to increase his number 
of helicopters from four to six, taking two of eight Black 
Hawks arriving soon.  Communications are critical, and the 
U.S. has supplied a radio network to enable the new missions. 
 Friendly fire is a risk among converging small units, 
especially during night operations.  Navas has also pushed 
for more timely intelligence from Bogota headquarters, as 
well as for direct online access to data through the 
U.S.-built intelligence communications computer system.  The 
general has initiated hiring of demobilized guerrillas to be 
integrated into the companies.  The U.S. will play an 
essential role in the training of the new units; the 
Milgroup's training teams are now designing a specialized 
one-month program to kick off in February 2007. 

------------------ 
Rewards vs. Risks?
------------------ 

7. (C)  Embassy has long counseled the COLMIL to adapt to 
FARC irregular warfare.  Smaller units made up of the very 
best soldiers could move more rapidly and be sequestered for 
operational security.  Navas' plans could measurably increase 
effectiveness if well implemented.  However, more dispersed 
deployment also implies greater exposure of troops to enemy 
fire, without the mobility and extensive backup called for in 
U.S. doctrine.  These strategies depend on quick reaction, 
solid communications and coordination, and air mobility.  It 
remains to be seen whether Navas can summon the resources to 
effect these changes and the political cover to sustain them, 
how the FARC will exploit any vulnerabilities, and how many 
casualties the COLMIL will suffer in exchange for gaining 
ground.  We will do what we can to support this tactical 
shift. 

WOOD