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U.S. special operators, including Marines, have played a key role in helping the Colombian military reclaim areas of the country once controlled by violent guerrilla organizations known for kidnappings and producing illegal drugs, according to a new report released by a Washington think tank.
“Beyond the Ramparts: The Future of U.S. Special Operations,” highlights U.S. involvement in the South American country, which has long battled the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, an acronym for its Spanish name.
Since 2000, U.S. special operations forces have provided Colombia with specialized training and advice to conduct counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations as part of “Plan Colombia,” a multiyear attempt to improve security across the nation. Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs and Air Force special operators all have played a role, with operators from Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command joining the mission more recently, said the report, produced by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
“Aided by their U.S. counterparts, Colombia SOF have led operations that have decimated the FARC, demobilized paramilitary groups and re-established a government presence in every Colombian municipality for the first time in decades,” the report said. “... Colombia today is safer and more stable that it has been in generations.”
The report offers a seldom-seen glimpse into how U.S. special operators are used outside the war in Afghanistan. Authored by Jim Thomas, a vice president at the think tank, and Chris Dougherty, a research fellow who served as an Army airborne infantryman, the report includes input from officials in the special operations world, including Maj. Gen. Mark Clark, the commander of MARSOC, and retired Maj. Gen. Paul Lefebvre, his predecessor.
The report also highlights the role of U.S. spec ops in the Philippines, another country in which MARSOC operators deploy regularly. In 2001, the report states, the nation’s southern islands were a safe haven for the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf Group and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a violent insurgent organization. Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines now includes about 500 U.S. personnel who are co-located with Philippine forces at about a dozen military and police facilities across the country.
MARSOC has deployed 14-man teams to the region on a rotational basis for years, part of a broader effort to support the Filipino military’s struggle with international crime and terrorism.