U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff commander General Martin Dempsey visited Colombia on March 29 to announce that within weeks U.S. military personnel will operate from a military base there with the newly formed Vulcan Task Force.
The Vulcan Task Force, which was established in December 2011, has 10,000 soldiers, three mobile brigades and one fixed brigade, operating from a base in Tibú, in the Catatumbo region (North Santander), just two miles from the Venezuela border.
On April 15, presidents Obama and Santos met during the Americas Summit and agreed on a new military regional action plan that will include training police forces in Central America and beyond. The announcement cited Operation Martillo, by which U.S. and Colombian forces have participated in operations this year against criminal elements on the coasts and interior of Central America.
The presence of U.S. soldiers on the military base in Tibú was presented by General Dempsey as an effort by the United States to support Colombia in its fight against drug trafficking and the insurgency. According to Dempsey, the Pentagon plans by June to send U.S. brigade commanders with practical experience in Afghanistan and Iraq to work with police and army combat units that will be deployed in areas controlled by the rebels. Dempsey said that U.S. military personnel will not participate in combat operations in Colombia.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Colombia has established its own version of U.S. joint special operations commands that carry out hunt-and-kill missions – operations for selective killings that have included U.S. citizens accused of having ties to Al Qaeda. With these special commandos, Colombia hopes to reach its goal of reducing the FARC guerrillas by 50% in two years.
U.S. participation in such an aggressive military campaign would undercut prospective attempts to negotiate a settlement of the armed conflict, which has increasing support in Colombia. The campaign, which apparently does not target successor paramilitary groups, is also likely to benefit those groups, which continue to commit human rights abuses, engage in drug trafficking, and operate in more than 400 municipalities in 31 Colombian states, according to a report by the Institute for Study of Development and Peace, INDEPAZ.
The Journal also cited statements by Southern Command chief General Douglas Fraser at a March 12 hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee expressing concern about the strengthening of diplomatic relations between Iran and the governments of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Cuba, and Nicaragua.
The expansion of counterinsurgency forces in Africa and Latin America is also part of a new national security strategy released by the White House in February. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that the new strategy introduces “innovative methods” for supporting counter-terrorist forces and expanding the United States’ influence on the two continents.
Joint Task Force Vulcan is led by Brigadier General Marcolino Tamayo Tamayo, who in 1985, when he was a lieutenant, participated in the operation to retake the Palace of Justice in Colombia. Similar joint task forces have been created in Tumaco, Nariño; Miranda, Cauca; and Tame, Arauca.
US says that within weeks its Vulcan Task Force will operate from Colombia