FARC Lose Rural Fighters, Move to Urban Militias

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The FARC guerrillas are no longer a national threat, according to Colombia’s government. However, if the authorities are right that that group is retrenching in its traditional strongholds and relying more on urban militias, it still poses a serious security risk.

A recent report by the Defense Ministry said that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have lost some 14 percent of their fighting forces in the last two years, or 1,200 people, and now have some 122 fighting structures with a total of fewer than 8,000 members, as El Tiempo reported.

The guerrillas no longer constitute a threat at a national level, according to the ministry, concentrating their actions in just 12 key locations, and retreating into their traditional power bases. In 2012, the FARC launched attacks in only 14 percent of the country’s 1,123 municipalities.

This loss of fighters means that the FARC is increasingly turning to its militia groups — these are generally urban based, live amongst civilians and do not wear uniforms.

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The government’s statistics point to a weakening FARC, backed by the fact that the rebels are currently at the negotiating table in the most conciliatory mood they have shown for years. However, this does not necessarily mean that a military victory is in sight for the government. If no peace is reached and the conflict continues, even a severely weakened FARC, with only a fraction of its current members, could pose a serious problem for security in Colombia.

The guerrillas’ growing reliance on urban militias, as documented over the last few years, means that, while the group now generally lacks the capacity to launch major attacks, it has an increased ability to carry out small-scale harassment of the authorities. The militias are not heavily armed or militarily trained, but have the ability to blend into the civilian population, and therefore do not present an easy target for the armed forces. Colombian intelligence has reported that there are some 10,000 such urban militias active in the country, meaning that these urban forces already outnumber the rural fighters.

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