Colombia: an overview of the Farc's military structure



The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) have vowed to prepare “an intense end of the year” in a statement issued on its mouthpiece ANNCOL (New Colombia News Agency) in November. A series of brutal attacks has indeed been reported in recent weeks, such as the bombing of a police station in Vegalarga, in the Huila department. Although the guerrilla suffered several setbacks, including the death of its military leader Jorge Briceño “El Mono Jojoy” Suarez in September, they remain capable of staging brutal attacks. Therefore, it is interesting to take a look at its organisational structure.

The top of the hierarchy is formed by the “Secretariat” and by the “Central High Command”, which appoints the commanders of the “Blocks”. These are the military command structure of the seven zones in which the rebel group has divided the Colombian territory. The main task of each of these “Blocks” is to co-ordinate the actions of five or more so-called “Fronts” in specific zones.  The “Fronts” groups together an estimated 200 rebels, or more than two “Columns”. However, it must be noted that some have less than 50 active fighters, whereas others can field nearly 400 combatants. Although they can operate separately, some join forces to increase their effectiveness, whereas others are divided into smaller squads to conduct hit-and-run attacks. Moreover, certain departments serve be operational areas for several Fronts.

Covering the country from north to south, we can discern the following structure: Northern or Caribbean Block, North-western Block, Middle Magdalena Block, Central Block, Southern Block, Western Block and Eastern Block.  The latter – recently named “Bloque Comandante Jorge Briceño” - has the largest operational area, white an estimated 23 Fronts active in the Arauca, Meta, Guaviare, Vichada, Cudinamarca, Casanare, Boyacá and Norte de Santander departments. This zone is an important stronghold for the FARC, which have set up encampments across the Venezuelan border. Another important zone is controlled by the Southern Block, which – besides its historical relevance as the oldest bock – contains the strategically important departments of Huila, Caquetá, Nariño and Putumayo. These last two border respectively Ecuador and Peru. Intelligence reports have indicated that FARC leaders were hiding in encampments across these borders.

Despite increased government actions conducted with U.S. support, some Blocks have managed to resist the military advancement whereas others are being pushed into remote areas, such as the Northern, North-western and Central Blocks. However, the Middle Magdalena Block – which covers the Antioquia, Boyacá, Cesar, Santander, Norte de Santander and Bolívar departments – and the Western Block continue to pose a threat to the internal security. Although the latter has the lowest number of active Fronts, these are considered to be among the most capable within the rebel group. They pose a large threat in the Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Nariño, Meta and Tolima departments.

It must lastly be noted that several of these Fronts are not involved in the fight against the government. According to an intelligence report disclosed last February, at least eight FARC Fronts are solely devoted to the production and trafficking of cocaine. They are also acting under direct orders from the High Secretariat and are evolving into a full-fledged drug cartel with ties in Peru, Panama and Mexico.

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