FARC’s Crisis of Discipline

The French-language daily Libération has an interview with Colombian academic and military analyst César Restrepo on the recent tension in the region. Along the way, he touched upon the current crisis within the ranks of the Colombian insurgency, reflected by the recent betrayal of FARC commander Ivan Rios by his own men:

The circumstances in which the commander Ivan Rios was just killed — by his bodyguards — confirm what we’ve been hearing for several months now: that the FARC is experiencing a very serious crisis of discipline. The principal cause is drug money. What began as a means of financing became a cancer. The taste for easy money corrupted the insurgency. To the point that the “lieutenants” of certain units try to kill their commanders in order to take over the business. (Translated from the French.)

The link between insurgencies and organized crime is pretty well-known, but I’ve yet to see a satisfying approach to that particular aspect of counter-insurgency. Here’s the paragraph devoted to it by the Army counter-insurgency field manual (.pdf):

Throughout history, many insurgencies have degenerated into criminality. This occurred as the primary movements disintegrated and the remaining elements were cast adrift. Such disintegration is desirable; it replaces a dangerous, ideologically inspired body of disaffiliated individuals with a less dangerous but more diverse body, normally of very uneven character. The first is a security threat, the second a law-and-order concern. This should not be interpreted, of course, as denigrating the armed capacity of a law-and-order threat. Successful counterinsurgents are prepared to address this disintegration. They also recognize that the ideal approach eliminates both the insurgency and any criminal threats its elimination produces. (p. 1-12)

That’s pretty thin gruel, especially given our less-than-stellar results in eliminating the global drug trade. The disintegration into criminal enterprises not only splinters organizational infrastructure, it also creates a natural wedge between insurgents and the local population. Rather than taking advantage of that, we’ve put our counter-narcotics emphasis on crop-destruction programs that, by depriving poor farmers of lucrative cash crops, create the kinds of grievances that feed insurgencies.

We should also be devoting some energy to trying to anticipate what a post-ideological Al Qaeda might look like. It might be that religious extremism will prove more resistant to the kind of disintegration we’ve seen in other insurgencies. But the early signs out of Afghanistan, where heroin trafficking has grown exponentially in Taliban strongholds, suggest that it isn’t, and we should be prepared to deal with radical Islam’s genetic mutations when they do appear.

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