January 8, 2010


What Afghanistan Can Learn from Colombia (Robert Haddick, January 8, 2010, The American)

Ten years ago, Colombia faced a security crisis in many ways worse than that which Afghanistan currently faces. But over the past decade, Colombia has sharply reduced its murder and kidnapping rates, crushed the array of insurgent groups fighting against the government, demobilized the paramilitary groups that arose during the power vacuum of the 1990s, and significantly restored the rule of law and the presence of the government throughout the country.

With the assistance of a small team of U.S. advisers, Colombia rebuilt its army. In contrast to McChrystal’s plan for Afghanistan, Colombia focused on quality, not quantity. Colombia’s army and other security forces have achieved impressive success against an insurgency in many ways similar to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, in spite of the assistance of nearly 100,000 NATO soldiers and many billions in security assistance spending, the situation in Afghanistan seems to be deteriorating.

Afghan and U.S. officials are struggling to build an effective Afghan army. What can they learn from Colombia’s success? [...]

What reforms converted the Colombian army from an ineffective, garrison-bound band into an aggressive force that has crippled the FARC and ELN?

1. New leadership. In 1998, at the urging of U.S. officials, Pastrana replaced the top three leaders in the army with new generals who were trained at U.S. military schools and who had extensive combat experience at the battalion and brigade levels. This new trio then replaced subordinate commanders who lacked aggressiveness in the field. At this time, the Colombian army began to emphasize the selection and training of better quality non-commissioned officers for the army’s combat units.14 In A Question of Command, Mark Moyar’s study of a variety of counterinsurgency campaigns, Moyar asserts that leadership quality, and not campaign plans or tactics, is the key to success.15 Colombia’s success against its insurgents bolsters Moyar’s argument.

2. Reorganization. Beginning with the Pastrana administration and extending into the Uribe administration, Colombia reorganized its army into a mobile and highly skilled professional component and a draftee component formed for local security.16 Under the tutelage of U.S. Army Special Forces trainers, the professional component of the army established numerous air-mobile, Ranger, mountain warfare, counter-drug, and special forces battalions.17 These units improved the army’s overall effectiveness by specializing in specific tasks. Perhaps as important, Uribe focused the draftee portion of the army on village defense. He created more than 600 home guard platoons, each composed of about 40 soldiers stationed in their home towns to provide basic security and collect intelligence on insurgent activity. These platoons interdicted the movement of insurgent units in the countryside and freed up the professional army for offensive operations.18 The Colombian army also increased spending on logistics support and intelligence analysis, activities supported by the U.S. advisory team.19

3. Helicopters. The Colombian military expanded its inventory of helicopters from about 20 in 1998 to 255 by late 2008. To overcome Colombia’s mountainous and forested terrain, the army needed air mobility. Today, with extensive U.S. support, the Colombian army operates the world’s third-largest fleet of UH-60 Blackhawk assault helicopters.20 Colombia’s helicopter fleet has made possible the army’s offensive doctrine against insurgent support areas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 8, 2010 7:20 AM
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