A military operation that killed 14 dissident FARC fighters just a day after three former top guerrilla commanders announced a return to arms seems to hint at the way the Duque administration in Colombia will confront this threat.
The dissident fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia -- FARC) were killed in a rural area of the municipality of San Vicente del Caguán in southern Caquetá department, President Iván Duque announced August 30.
One of those killed was alias “Gildardo Cucho,” whom Duque identified as a top drug trafficker and dissident leader in Caquetá. However, he was virtually unknown prior to this security operation.
A day earlier, a group of former guerrillas led by Luciano Marín Arango, alias "Iván Márquez," Seuxis Pausías Hernández, alias "Jesús Santrich," and Hernán Darío Vélez Saldarriaga, alias "El Paisa," announced a return to armed struggle via a video published on YouTube.
After more than 50 years of armed conflict, all three had been key figures in a process that culminated with the historic signing of a peace agreement between the FARC rebels and Colombian government in 2016.
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General Luis Fernando Navarro, the head of the Colombian armed forces, said the bombing in San Vicente del Caguán is just the first of several planned attacks.
"There will be more bombings, all the capabilities we have to defend Colombians will be available," Navarro said at a press conference shortly after President Duque's announcement, as reported by El Heraldo.
The commander of the Colombian Army, General Nicasio Martínez, added that this new threat from the ex-FARC mafia will be confronted by a specialized unit. The force will have increased intelligence and judicial capacities, and will be supported at the national level as they pursue the main leaders of this new structure.
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The speed with which this operation was carried out makes it likely that this was an attempt by the Duque administration to show quick results. But the use of an airstrike of this magnitude and the declarations of high-ranking military officials hint at the possible future of the fight against dissident FARC fighters in Colombia.
In less than 24 hours, the Colombian government issued new arrest warrants for Márquez, Santrich and El Paisa. In addition, a high reward was offered for information on their whereabouts. Members of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz -- JEP), one of the institutions responsible for implementing the peace agreement signed between the government and the FARC, are also moving forward with plans to expel the three former fighters from the process.
Although this is not the first bombing that has been carried out against dissident FARC fighters on Duque’s watch, the high number of casualties makes clear the lengths the government are willing to go in order to neutralize this new fighting force. It also remains unclear whether Gildardo Cucho truly had any links to Márquez's organization
Furthermore, the potential dangers for the civilian population that come with this type of offensive, as well as the questionable effectiveness of such a strategy in the face of the growing consolidation of FARC dissidents, has not yet been explored.