Col. Luis Alberto Villamarín Pulido, Colombian Strategic Affairs Analyst
On 9 December 1990, troops of the Seventh Brigade of the Colombian Army, commanded by Gen. Luis Humberto Correa, carried out the first great air and land operation against a narco-terrorist complex that served as the headquarters of the FARC Secretariat, known by the mythic name Casa Verde [Green House], in the Uribe-Meta rural area, in the southeastern foothills of the Páramo del Sumapaz.
In the words of Jacobo Arenas, the terrorist group’s founding ideologue, “Casa Verde was the symbol of the construction of a revolutionary movement providing guidance to communist guerrillas, as a stimulus to subversion in order to take power.”
Striking the FARC Secretariat at its headquarters was a matter of the greatest strategic importance for the National Army and of particular political significance for the country. In accordance with this line of thought, Operation Colombia was planned in detail, on the basis of testimony from FARC deserters, aerial photographs taken by the Air Force, meteorological analysis, and the selection of assault troops, land blockades, aerial tactical fire, and maneuvers directed at concrete objectives.
The air and land assault, following aerial tactical fire aimed at softening up the enemy’s position, was led by the Special Forces. The commandos descended on the chief objectives: Tirofijo’s house, Jacobo’s house, the lecture halls, the Cadre School, and the logistical stores.
The valor and gallantry of the Colombian soldiers were put to the test in this phase of combat, since they waged the most dramatic part of the battle against the detachments left in contact by the guerrilla chiefs, who, alerted by agents infiltrated into the national government, had warned them of Operation Colombia’s imminence.
Over the course of thirty years, the communist guerrillas of Juan de la Cruz Varela and then Tirofijo’s FARC had constructed an intricate system of trenches, observation posts, deployment points, and anti-aircraft machine gun and mortar nests, which naturally slowed the advance of the first wave of assault troops and made it necessary to request additional aerial support.
Once the fierce communist resistance of the first phase of the attack had been overcome, more infantry soldiers descended on predetermined secondary objectives and destroyed other components of the subversive complex hidden in the folds of the eastern mountain range, in sites of difficult access protected by sharpshooters.
The armed encounters and skirmishes lasted for fifteen days, until with very few casualties, whether dead, wounded, or evacuated for other reasons, the troops took complete control of the area. In addition to capturing and killing or wounding a number of terrorists, the troops seized abundant war matériel, headquarters communications, and copious documents of high value for Colombian military intelligence and law enforcement.
Once an inventory of the finds had been made, the documents seized by the troops revealed the majority of the FARC’s secrets at the time, summarized in guerrilla lectures, plenums, assistantship meetings, the terrorist group’s programmatic documents, and its strategic plan.
On the basis of the information obtained, the National Army realized the strategic importance of the Páramo del Sumapaz, and the departments of Meta, Guaviare, and Caquetá in the FARC’s thrust toward the capital of the republic, as well as the FARC’s growing financial dependence on drug trafficking.
As a result of these conclusions, the National Army created the first two mobile brigades with jurisdiction throughout the national territory, staffed by officers and non-commissioned officers with experience in rural counterterrorism operations, in order to engage in operations involving objectives of high strategic value related to narco-terrorism.
Also, the institutions of the Colombian state refocused the search for intelligence on the FARC’s urban and rural structures, acquired experience in deciphering messages encoded using numeric systems and alphanumeric keys previously unknown, different from those traditionally used by the ELN, generally using previously agreed pages of books, magazines, or other documents, or written with invisible ink on sheets of blank paper.
Specialists in technical intelligence acquired firsthand knowledge of tricks involving changing channels of communication, altering frequencies, flexible schedules, sending false counterintelligence messages, and internal radio communication systems used by the Secretariat and each platoon throughout the national territory.
The rural combat units learned more details about the logistical procedures, the systems of porters and the peasant liaisons for supplying the platoons in the areas of operations. As a consequence, the pressure against the fronts in each region increased.
The Colombian Army’s psychological operations units showed the importance of rapprochement with the civilian population, called “political education of the peasant base” by the terrorists, since it was the root of the structural strength of the Clandestine Communist Party and the Bolivarian militias integrated into its strategic plan.
In synthesis, Operation Colombia against the FARC Secretariat at Casa Verde was a watershed in the history of the war against communist terrorism in Colombia and resulted in significant strategic lessons about the use of special forces, field artillery, combat engineers, helicopter-borne operations, aerial tactical fire, combat intelligence, technical intelligence, document analysis, and psychological and logistical action in irregular operations.
The ongoing presence of Gen. Correa at the head of the troops in the combat area elevated the soldiers’ morale and their desire to fight and increased the efficiency of the frontline units. The complete logistical support from Bogotá by Gen. Manuel Murillo, the commander of the Army, reinforced the action and forced the FARC to abort the plans they had been secretly preparing at Casa Verde for the launch of a final offensive against Bogotá. This and much more was the fruit of the military incursion against the FARC’s chief stronghold on 9 December 1990.