This is the first of what will be a series of at least three posts presenting some initial impressions of Colombia’s “Integrated Action” doctrine and programs. These programs are important: they represent the Uribe government’s view – or at least the view of key officials in the Uribe government – of what the country’s future military and counternarcotics strategies should look like. They also appear to be the template for future U.S. assistance to Colombia, as aid packages become smaller and less military over the next several years.
Just a few quick disclaimers before diving in.
- The following analysis is based on documentary research, many interviews, and travel to one of the zones where this new model is being carried out. But we’re not done yet. One reason this is appearing on our blog and not in a published report is that we’re not done with our research phase yet. We plan to have a proper report out in September.
- For now, our research is nowhere near complete. The program we are analyzing is still quite incipient, and the situation is fluid. Different sources are telling us often wildly different things. As a result, between now and September, we may end up rescinding or strongly altering some of the observations that appear below. We present them here for discussion, and in the hope that they will open more doors to dialogue with analysts, officials and practitioners.
- We should make clear that despite strong concerns, we do not oppose this model outright, as we did with Plan Colombia. The 2000 and subsequent aid packages – with their mostly military approach, their neglect of governance, and their reliance on eradication without development aid – never made sense to us. The new “Integrated Action” model, at least as a concept, does more to reflect basic realities and incorporate many strategies that we have been advocating for years.
- However, we do not know enough yet to say we support the model. While the concept and intent appear sound, both could be badly undermined by poor execution. Militarization, poor coordination, politicization or human-rights abuse are just four of many examples of issues that could cause these complex efforts to go disastrously wrong.
- Our goals, then, are to (1) Learn as much as we can about what is being done, especially what is being done with U.S. support; (2) Evaluate what is working and what isn’t; (3) Warn about problems with the programs’ execution that could do grave damage if not corrected; (4) Praise and support the components of the program that are doing innovative and promising work; and (5) Make recommendations for how the model and its execution should be altered, and how U.S. support should change, to achieve a good outcome and avoid doing damage. At this point, we not at all prepared to begin point (5).
The rest of this first post tries to lay out the basics of exactly what it is we’re analyzing here: the “Integrated Action” model of counter-insurgency – or, as others seek to define it, of state-building and governance in long-neglected areas. In subsequent posts, I will share a bit of what I saw during a late April visit to one of the main “Integrated Action” zones, and then offer a few preliminary observations, critiques, warnings, and the occasional kind word.
What is “Integrated Action?”
It is a set of new Colombian government programs that have gone under many names in the past few years. These include Plan Colombia 2, Plan Colombia Consolidation Phase, Social Recovery of Territory (or Social Control of Territory), the National Consolidation Plan, the Center for the Coordination of Integrated Action (CCAI), or the “Strategic Leap.”
Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s defense minister until last week, offered this definition: “It means state institutions’ entry or return to zones affected by violence to satisfy the population’s basic needs, like health, education and public services, as well as justice, culture, recreation and infrastructure projects.”
The underlying idea is that Colombia’s historically neglected rural areas will only be taken back from illegal armed groups if the entire government is involved in “recovering” or “consolidating” its presence in these territories. While the military and police must handle security, the doctrine contends that the rest of the government must be brought into these zones in a quick, coordinated way.
This is a response to many past frustrations. Even as they saw their size nearly double and budget nearly triple during the 2000s, Colombia’s security forces found that they could chase guerrillas out of territory – often with large, costly military offensives – but they could not keep the guerrillas from returning after they deployed elsewhere. Similarly, drug eradication programs sprayed tens of thousands of campesinos’ crops, increasing anger at the government in guerrilla-controlled zones. In a vacuum of governance, however, coca replanting easily kept up with the increased eradication.
In response to these frustrations, the “Integrated Action” doctrine began emerging around 2004 and rose to prominence by 2006. The new rhetoric appeared to incorporate many of the arguments and suggestions of Plan Colombia’s critics: that the effort shouldn’t be entirely military; that social services are important; that forced eradication without aid will do harm; that populations should be consulted.
“Integrated Action” also dovetails with rapidly evolving U.S. counter-insurgency theories, as embodied by Gen. David Petraeus’s new Army Counter-Insurgency Field Manual [PDF] or the work of scholars and advisors like David Kilcullen, who recommends [PDF] “A comprehensive approach that closely integrates civil and military efforts,” “timeliness and reliability in delivering on development promises,” and “careful cueing of security operations to support development and governance activities, and vice versa.”
The doctrine originated in the U.S. Southern Command and Colombia’s Defense Ministry. Together, they developed an entity called the Center for Coordination of Integrated Action (CCAI), a sort of coordination body that is now within the Colombian Presidency’s Social Action office. (Social Action, which does not operate out of a cabinet ministry, is a large, well-funded presidential initiative that manages several direct subsidy, humanitarian aid, and alternative development programs. Its critics charge that much of its aid is short-term handouts that verge on clientelism.)
The CCAI seeks to coordinate the entry of fourteen state institutions, including the military, the judiciary, and cabinet departments, into parts of Colombia considered to have been “recovered” from armed groups’ control.
A recent paper from the U.S. Army War College [PDF] contends that the CCAI structure came from a U.S. military proposal.
Following a suggestion from U.S. Southern Command, President Alfonso [sic.] Uribe created the Coordinating Center for Integrated Action (CCAI) and made it his vehicle to achieve the required unity of effort to defeat the insurgency.
… [T]he Civil Affairs section of the SOUTHCOM operations directorate proposed an initiative to establish a Colombian interagency organization â€œcapable of synchronizing national level efforts to reestablish governanceâ€ in areas that had been under FARC, ELN, or AUI control. Civil Affairs ofï¬cers attached to the MILGP [U.S. Embassy Military Group] in Colombia presented the concept to the Minister of Defense who liked it and made it the basis for his proposal to President Uribe in February 2004.
… CCAIâ€™s ï¬rst major planning activity was a senior leader seminar and planning session held from May 8-10, 2004, which developed anÂ economic, social development, and security plan to reestablish long-term governance in southern Colombia.
… Implementation of this plan was sufï¬ciently successful that planning was expanded to address a full seven conï¬‚ictive zones throughout the country. This plan was addressed at an off-site planning session in Washington at the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies from March 28-31, 2005.
In thirteen presumably “recovered” zones throughout the country, the CCAI follows a sequenced and phased strategy that, on paper at least, begins with military operations, moves into quick social and economic-assistance efforts to win the population’s support, and is to end up with the presence of a functioning civilian government and the withdrawal of most military forces. “The process begins with the provision of security and is followed by voluntary and forced coca eradication, the establishment of police posts, and the provision of civilian government social services, including a judiciary,” explains a late 2008 USAID report.
The CCAI considers different territories to be in different phases of “consolidation,” and thus requiring different combinations of military and non-military investment. The schematic looks something like this:
Source: Colombian Ministry of Defense [PDF].
- Territorial Control phase: areas with active presence of illegal armed groups. Intense military effort to expel the armed groups.
- Territorial Stabilization phase: areas under control, but in process of institutional recovery. Intense military and police effort to keep order while seeking to attract other state institutions to the zone.
- Territorial Consolidation phase: areas stabilized. Intense political and social effort to establish state institutions and public services.
Most CCAI-managed projects so far appear to be oriented toward the Stabilization (yellow) phase, where some civilian activity is going on alongside the security forces’Â large-scale security and coca-eradication effort. Communities are gathered at assemblies, where they choose income-generating projects. Local government officials are getting technical assistance. Judicial and prosecutorial authorities are entering zones, though their initial focus often seems to be prosecuting suspected guerrillas and collaborators. Infrastructure-building or repair activities, many of them quick demonstration projects, are proceeding significantly, mainly in the safer town centers. The goal is to win local communities’ trust and support – though of course forced eradication, human rights abuse or prosecutorial zeal risk increasing communities’ suspicion.
The CCAI is conceived as an inter-agency body. But because it originated in the Defense Ministry, and because the “Territorial Control” and “Territorial Stabilization” phases call for a large military role, the CCAI in fact includes heavy military participation and is under significant military leadership. A March 2009 Defense Ministry directive [PDF] places the CCAI under the leadership of a Consejo Directivo (Directive Council) whose members come almost entirely from the state security forces.
The CCAI Directive Council will be made up of the Ministry of National Defense, the Commander-General of the Armed Forces, the Director-General of the National Police, the High Counselor of the Presidential Agency for Social Action and International Cooperation, the Director of the DAS [Administrative Security Department, or presidential intelligence and secret police], and the Prosecutor-General of the Nation. [Of this list, only Social Action and the Prosecutor-General are not security officials.]
Other, non-military, government bodies belong to a CCAI ComitÃ© Ejecutivo (Executive Committee), which does not play the same leadership role. This committee includes the civilian ministries of Agriculture, Social Protecction, Interior and Justice, Education, Mines and Energy, Transportation and Environment, Housing and Development, as well as the presidential planning department, the family welfare institute, the national technical training service, the sports agency and the civil registry. The CCAI also includes local civilian officials, particularly governors and mayors, in its zones of operation. But the military role appears to be paramount.
The “Integrated Action” model built momentum in 2006, as Ãlvaro Uribe began his second term and Juan Manuel Santos became his defense minister. Santos and a key vice-minister, Sergio Jaramillo, sought to attract resources and political support to the model they helped to develop. In March 2009, only two months before leaving office, Santos sought to brand the CCAI and the Integrated Action framework as part of a “Strategic Leap” (Salto EstratÃ©gico) toward, in his view, bringing Colombia’s conflict to a definitive end.
Earlier this year, with U.S. support, Colombia’s defense ministry established two “Fusion Centers.” The first is in and around the La Macarena National Park in Meta department, about 150 miles due south of BogotÃ¡ in what, between 1998 and 2002, was part of the zone temporarily ceded to the FARC for talks with the guerrillas. The other is in the Montes de MarÃa region southwest of Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
These facilities’ purpose, explained Santos [PDF], is “to replicate at the local level the interagency coordination effort that occurs at the national level in bodies like the CCAI.” The Fusion Center is an office in the “consolidation” zone with “a military coordinator, a police coordinator and a civilian manager. This manager, who reports to the CCAI, is charged with administrating and supervising the implementation of plans in coordination with local and regional authorities.”
La Macarena is the first Fusion Center, and the one I visited in April (and will discuss in later posts). A zone that has been under solid FARC control for decades, it has been a principal focus of “Integrated Action” since 2007, when the Defense Ministry instituted a special “Consolidation Plan for La Macarena” (PCIM) to coordinate activities in the zone.
Here is a sampling of what some generally supportive outside voices have been saying about the La Macarena project.
- Friday’s Washington Post: “Under the Integrated Consolidation Plan for the Macarena, named after a national park west of here, the military first drove out guerrillas and other armed groups. In quick sequence, engineers and work crews, technicians, prosecutors, social workers and policy types arrived, working in concert to transform a lawless backwater into something resembling a functioning part of Colombia.”
- Colombia’s Semana magazine, current issue: “In three years, 191 billion pesos [about US$80 million] have been invested in infrastructure projects, especially highways like the paving that will connect the towns of San Juan de Arama and La Uribe, and several tertiary roads.”
- U.S. General Accounting Office, October 2008 report: “If successful, the approach in La Macarena is intended to serve as a model for similar CCAI efforts in 10 other regions of the country. It represents a key test of the governmentâ€™s enhanced state presence strategy and a potential indicator of the long-term prospects for reducing Colombiaâ€™s drug trade by systematically re-establishing government control throughout the country.”
The U.S. Agency for International Development has generously supported the La Macarena program since March 2007. The main funding channels have been USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), which carries out rapid, short-term projects in crisis situations and plans to leave Colombia in 2010, and the Defense Department’s so-called “Section 1207″ authority (named for the section of the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, which created it), which allows the Pentagon to transfer some of its budget to the State Department for development projects. The Dutch government supports a food-security and rural development program in the same area.
My best estimate (which could be off) of funding directly through OTI, including 2009, is about $6 million. Section 1207 has likely provided another $14-19 million. It is not clear how much more has come from other sources, such as USAID’s “regular” Colombia budget, Southern Command’s operational funds, or the Defense Department’s counter-narcotics programs.
USAID-OTI manages an “Initial Governance Response Program” whose mission is to “work with CCAI to deliver quick-impact activities in the short term to build trust between the government and vulnerable communities and to establish a foundation for longer term socioeconomic recovery and growth.” While OTI supports training programs, planning processes, technical support and publicity strategies, the “quick-impact” projects are the most visible aspect of U.S. aid in the CCAI-PCIM-Fusion Center in La Macarena. Many of these projects – soccer fields, playgrounds, renovations and repainting of existing infrastructure – appear to do more to build confidence in the Colombian state’s incipient presence than meet residents’ basic socioeconomic needs.
This program’s supporters are increasingly touting it as a model of state-building and counterinsurgency that will guide the future of U.S. aid to Colombia and could be replicated elsewhere. “Colombia’s government may have found a remedy palatable to a Democratic-led U.S. Congress not only interested in emphasizing social development over military aid for this country but also looking for solutions to consider in Afghanistan,” writes Juan Forero in last Friday’s Washington Post. Adds USAID:
The consolidation plan is now widely seen in Colombia as the model for creating the conditions necessary for sustained establishment of a state presence in formerly ungoverned parts of the country. The GOC is basing its still-to-be-finalized national consolidation strategy on the unified consolidation plan that OTI has supported. Similarly, lessons learned during plan implementation are being used to help shape the U.S. Embassy’s new embassy-wide strategy as well as the USAID Mission’s revised strategy.
Colombia’s now-former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, even thinks that the “Integrated Action” model should be pursued in Afghanistan, and said so at a joint press conference earlier this year in BogotÃ¡ with Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.
This concept applied in Afghanistan is something that could really help. And we have particular experiences, like crop eradication, like the integrated fight against trafficking whereby we go after every link in the chain. In Afghanistan there are some jobs that are more important or less important than those that we have here, but the concept is applicable there. It is in this way that we think our experience could contribute in some way to solving the problem in Afghanistan or the problem in Iraq.
Non-governmental critics of the model have expressed strong concerns about the military’s dominant role and the likelihood – or reality – of human rights abuses. The Colombian human rights group MINGA is an example [PDF]:
The main risk of this strategy is that it is being developed in zones with high levels of confrontation and armed-group presence, where the civilian population is viewed as being at the service of the armed forces (with the risk implied by tying civilian non-combatants to any of the armed groups), in which civilian subordination to military power is in evidence. … It can be said that, in this model, mayors and council members don’t work mainly for the civilian population, but instead respond to military coordination in the main issues of local governance. Among these are the distribution of food, emergency assistance, health and vaccination services, school recreation activities and training courses given by military personnel.
Adds Garry Leech of the Colombia Journal website:
The PCIMâ€™s strategy appears to be as much about counterinsurgency as it is about counternarcotics and social and economic development. Furthermore, the counterinsurgency component of the PCIM has been linked to human rights violations. Local peasants and human rights defenders claim that the Colombian army has worked in collusion with right-wing paramilitaries in its effort to consolidate control over the region.
This rather confusing and often vague picture is, by and large, what we know so far about the “Integrated Action” doctrine and the strategies it has implemented. We need to know more in order to evaluate it properly. To do so, CIP staff is visiting at least two sites where Fusion Centers or CCAI programs exist, including the two that the United States has most generously funded: La Macarena and Montes de MarÃa.
We paid a visit to the La Macarena zone a month ago, spending a day in Vistahermosa – site of the “Fusion Center” – and the nearby village of Puerto Toledo. That visit will be the subject of the next post.