Small Wars Journal

Lessons for America’s Longest-Running War from the Americas’ Longest-Running Insurgency

Lessons for America’s Longest-Running War from the Americas’ Longest-Running Insurgency by Lionel Beehner and Liam Collins - Modern War Institute

In 2016, Colombia achieved a remarkable success by seemingly bringing to an end the Western Hemisphere’s longest-running insurgency. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has been at war with government forces for more than fifty years. And yet here was a negotiated settlement by which two parties that had been fighting for generations agreed to lay down their arms—by which the guerrilla organization itself would be brought into the government’s formal power structures. The case raises important questions—not least for a US government that watches the clock on its own counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan tick ever closer to two decades. How was this possible? And are there lessons that can be exported and applied to other intransigent conflicts, like Afghanistan? The Modern War Institute at West Point recently led a research trip to assess these and other questions.

To be sure, the case of Colombia offers not a shining success story but a cautionary tale of how the US military can assist a foreign military and a weak government in fighting a counterinsurgency to bring about peace. A signed peace agreement does not mean that all is instantly well. In Colombia, attacks continue, as the January 2019 terrorist attack against the police academy in Bogotá highlights, and cocaine continues to emanate from Colombia at record levels. Although promptly rescinded, a recent order by the Colombian army to double the number of criminals and guerrillas they kill caused a swirl of controversy among both its rank and file as well as human rights groups, given the armed forces’ past track record of targeting civilians to reach quotas. Still, the conditions in Colombia are significantly improved from what they were a decade ago…

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Categories: El Centro