A video shows Colombian guerrillas testing a homemade bazooka, using 80mm mortar rounds, providing visual evidence of the rebels’ capacity to produce cheap and deadly weapons, which could be used to take on vehicles or police and army bunkers.
The video, distributed by Semana, was allegedly found by the army in an encampment of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia –FARC) in the southern department of Caqueta. This is a stronghold for one of the FARC’s most aggressive units, the Teofilo Forero Mobile Column, a guerrilla Special Forces unit, which first came to fame during the failed peace process (1999-2002) with then-President Andres Pastrana, where it acted as a bodyguard for members of the FARC’s seven-man ruling body, the Secretariat.
In the video, a man who appears to be the unit’s explosives expert, describes the measurements of a fairly sophisticated mortar bomb, which he says took five days to construct. Another man fires the mortar from a crude anti-tank launcher, complete with a handpainted serial number. The rebels could use this type of weapon to target police stations, which in most rural areas have reinforced concrete hangars, or in ambushes, where they target police patrols, often with roadside bombs, with a killing zone where the bazooka and heavy machine guns could be deployed.
The FARC’s use of homemade rockets and mortars resulted in over 2,000 casualties among the security forces last year. The rebels use scrap material to produce cheap 80mm, 120mm and 150mm mortars, with gas cylinders and launcher tubes which typically have poor accuracy but deadly force. The Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) trained the FARC in designing “barrack buster” mortars and setting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in the safe haven granted to the FARC during the peace talks. It is clear that the FARC have continued experimenting and developing their own artisanal weapons systems.
The Teofilo Forero Mobile Column has been blamed for several high level actions, among them the kidnapping of Congressman Jorge Eduardo Gechem from a domestic flight, which brought an end to the peace process in February 2002. The unit was also implicated in the car bomb placed in the exclusive Bogota social club of El Nogal, which left 36 people dead and up to 200 wounded. The leader of the Teofilo Forero, Hernan Dario Velasquez, alias ‘El Paisa’, is regarded as a High Value Target by the Colombian security forces.
The Teofilo Forero also operates in the department of Huila and is believed responsible for the wave of extortion-related bombings which rocked the city of Neiva in early January. Police say the Column now consists of just 30 combatants, compared with over 400 troops at the peak of the FARC’s power in 2002, but InSight believes this figure to be far too low.