News from Colombia keeps coming. This afternoon Colombian security killed Ivan Rios, another member of the FARC Estado Mayor Central (Central High Command.) This is the body that governs the organization. Raul Reyes, one of its members was killed last week, touching off a diplomatic spat. This latest strike took place within Colombian territory.
It is also rumored that the founder and top commander, Manual Marulanda is ill. This is an organization that could be entering a severe leadership crisis.
Overall this is good news – but there are potential dangers.
It is impossible for an outsider to know if intelligence collected from the laptops captured with Reyes contributed to this strike. It is worth noting that Colombia has, with U.S. aid, developed some impressive cyber-forensic capabilities. In the Colombian paper El Pais the operation was joint between the military and el Cuerpo Técnico de Investigación de la Fiscalía. Although there was also a humint component, demobilized FARC members provided intelligence as well.
Quick note about cyber-forensics – it may go beyond reading correspondence. I’ve heard intelligence analysts say that amateurs study content, professionals study traffic. It is possible that operational patterns were detected by studying the origin and destination of electronic traffic on these computers as well and then combining them with the human intelligence. An effective and professional operation all around.
Decapitation strategies (that is targeting the leaders of terrorist organizations) have a mixed record. More robust organizations (such as the FARC or Hezbollah) can readily replace their leaders – and worse carry out revenge strikes. Israel learned this lesson in 1992 after assassinated Hezbollah Secretary-General Abbas Musawi. Only a month later Hezbollah responded by blowing up Israel’s Embassy in Buenos Aires. For its credibility the FARC will almost certainly have to carry out a counter-strike and its still formidable resources mean that it could be deadly.
Nonetheless, the FARC is showing signs of being systematically neutralized. Colombia security has clearly penetrated FARC security. The ability of Fronts to coordinate is certain to be devastated since the FARC will need to be wary of using any communications system. In addition the organization has a high desertion rate and has lost any shred of credibility with the Colombian people. Finally, Ecuador arrested a FARC unit. It is possible that Correa was both embarrassed at the exposure of links between himself and the FARC (including Colombia’s allegation that the FARC financed his election) and has looked long and hard at the consequences of being Hugo’s puppy.
While this is overall good news, as the organization fractures a small component that is still ideologically devoted could turn to deadly high profile terror (or even decide to take its revenge on the United States.)
To paraphrase Churchill, this is not the end – but it might be the beginning of the end. Unfortunately, the FARC could go down fighting.