Cablegate: Us Hostage Status: 18 Months in Farc Captivity

Published: Thu 2 Sep 2004 11:11 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 BOGOTA 008900
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/24/2014
Classified By: Ambassador William B. Wood for reasons 1.4 (b),
(c), and (d).
1. (S//NF) August 13, 2004 marked the 18-month anniversary of
the FARC's kidnapping of three American crewmembers after a SOUTHCOM single-engine Cessna crashed. The most significant
change since the one-year update in reftel (NOTAL) has been the initiation and impressive progress of the COLMIL's Plan Patriota Phase IIB, which targets FARC strongholds in southeastern Colombia. Given the operations, progress, it is possible that the FARC moved the hostages into a less volatile area, such as the Correguaje region, where the FARC has well-developed hostage camp infrastructure. Although Embassy has not received any proof-of-life since July 2003,
we assess that the hostages are still alive given their high value. Sources indicate, however, that the FARC would kill the hostages rather than allow a rescue. Embassy continues to hold biweekly interagency meetings to discuss the status, strategize and consider new leads. End Summary.
2. (S//NF) August 13, 2004, marked 18 months of captivity for
Thomas R. Howes, Marc D. Gonsalves, and Keith D. Stansell,
whose SOUTHCOM Reconnaissance System single engine Cessna 208 Caravan aircraft crashed in northern Caqueta Department. Two
other members of the crew -- U.S. citizen Tom Jannis and Colombian Army Sergeant Luis Cruz -- were executed shortly after the crash when they apparently refused to follow FARC orders to move quickly out of the area. Their bodies were found about a mile from the crash site. The FARC took 24 days to bring the three surviving American citizens to the
first holding encampment.
3. (S//NF) Since our one-year assessment, the COLMIL has begun a major military offensive in the Yari region known as Plan Patriota Phase IIB (PPIIB). The offensive has made serious inroads into FARC strongholds, which may have prompted the FARC to move the hostages to a more secure area. A recent source claims the hostages are now located in the remote, mountainous Correguaje region of northern Caqueta and western Meta Departments. This region is near well-developed FARC hostage camp infrastructure and lies outside the PPIIB area of operations. Post is following up on all leads, but we do not have credible, precise information on the hostages' location.
4. (S//NF) While the hostages are susceptible to a variety of jungle maladies, on balance we believe that they receive medical treatment and adequate food given their value to the FARC. At the same time, FARC leadership has made it clear that, as they have in other situations, they it would kill the hostages rather than permit a successful rescue. We believe the FARC would first attempt to move them and only execute them as a last resort. Due to ongoing PPIIB
operations, it is possible the FARC could use the hostages as
"human shields" against COLMIL incursions into FARC strongholds.
5. (S//NF) The Embassy continues to collect all available intelligence related to hostage locations and has implemented a "Rewards for Justice" program for information leading to their safe return. This program has recently generated additional leads due to new ads placed in newspapers and on the radio outside Bogota. In addition, the MilGroup's Regional Information Support Team (RIST) provided 75,000
leaflets for dissemination around the areas of Larandia, San Vicente del Caguan, and Florencia on July 9. These programs have been successful in spurring walk-ins but so far have not yielded verifiable information on the hostages' whereabouts. We hold hostage status meetings biweekly with representatives from the Embassy Intelligence Fusion Center, U.S. MilGroup, the Office of Regional Affairs, Drug Enforcement Administration, the Narcotics Affairs Section and the
Executive Office. Nevertheless, since leads go stale in a matter of hours, any rescue mission would have to be launched with U.S. forces based in Colombia and briefed to respond.
--------------------------------------------- ----------
--------------------------------------------- ----------
6. (S//NF) The FARC may consider the hostages to be a bargaining chip with President Uribe in negotiating a trade of political hostages for imprisoned FARC commanders and troops. One intelligence report mentioned that some FARC elements are lobbying to release the U.S. hostages to embarrass the GOC and diminish U.S. support for Colombian anti-terrorism efforts. Unfortunately, an unconditional
hostage release by the FARC is highly unlikely; in the past they have always sought a quid pro quo.
7. (S//NF) Based on our analysis of the Colombian Military's training, equipment and tactics, the Colombian military is not capable of conducting a hostage rescue operation without endangering the lives of the hostages. President Uribe has told us he would allow a unilateral U.S. effort to release the hostages, and we believe the security forces -- with some ruffled feathers -- would accept his decision to do so. It
is clear, however, given the likely remote location of the hostages when, and if a rescue is attempted by U.S. forces that some involvement of Colombian military is inevitable. The degree to which we can count on COLMIL participation will depend on the nature of our cooperation and our relationship with the COLMIL rescue units.
8. (S//NF) The hostages, fate remains uncertain despite the recent GOC proposal to release 50 imprisoned FARC members in exchange for political and military hostages, including the three Americans. President Uribe has made it clear that any humanitarian exchange must include the three American hostages. The FARC rejected the GOC proposal in an August 22 communique. The FARC continues to press for an unconditional exchange of jailed terrorists for kidnap victims that the GOC cannot accept. The FARC does not/not explicitly include the Americans in their proposals.
9. (S//NF) The limited intelligence we get on the hostages seems to have a short life. We believe they are moved frequently, so intelligence on their whereabouts would be of limited value unless we could react instantly. Consequently, Post recommends that preparations begin for a U.S.-led operation that could act on intelligence quickly. Post also recommends identifying U.S. units that would take the lead in any rescue operation so we can begin familiarizing them with the area of operations. We should revise the rules of engagement for those U.S. forces specifically involved in hostage rescue so they can act effectively if actionable intelligence is collected. End Comment and Action Request. DRUCKER
View as: DESKTOP | MOBILE © Scoop Media