the liberation of 15 hostages in Colombia | 7/2/2008 12:00:00 AM
English version: This was the operation that freed Ingrid Betancourt
Ingrid Betancourt called it a perfect military operation. No one was hurt, not a bullet was fired and all the hostages were freed safe and sound. This is how it was planned and carried out.
As if though straight from a major action movie script, the Colombian Army planned this audacious blow by copying clever enemy tactics in order to carry out the rescue. Since the end of last year, the Army began implementing a new strategy dubbed “humanitarian fence”, which consisted in nearing as close as possible to the hostages, physically as well as with intelligence equipment and communications.
Without knowing, the first clue was given by guerrillas to the Army in the means of videotapes of the hostages, which were confiscated by the government last November. With this proof in hand, military intelligence experts were able to study the whereabouts of the hostages and their surroundings in order to begin following the clues.
Along the way, the decision was made that it was easier to negotiate with the guerillas directly in charge of watching over the hostages rather that with FARC leaders.
At the same time, according to intelligence information, Israeli technological support and know-how were fundamental in carrying out this electronic-espionage job. Month by month they followed the kidnappers and hostages’ steps and were even able to spy on them through satellites.
About three weeks ago, when the Army had Ingrid and the Americans pinpointed, they began to plan how to achieve a rescue with zero risks. Past experiences hadn’t ended happily and this time they couldn’t fail. So, according to an intelligence source, this is when the Army was inspired by one of the most sophisticated operations carried out by the Farc, the trap that was set for the Valle congressmen. The Farc pretended to be government officials saving the congressmen from a high-risk situation in the House of Representatives in downtown Cali. Without any resistance, all of the congressmen were placed on a bus and driven out of town. In all reality, the Farc had successfully carried out a mass kidnapping.
With this in mind, the final phase of Operation Check Mate began.
Since the hostages were separated in three isolated groups, through secretariat communication infiltrations, they were able to convince aka “Cesar” and aka “Gafas” that is was necessary to unite all hostages in only one place in order to transport them together to the southern part of the country. Apparently they tricked them into believing that a humanitarian organization would lend them the helicopters in order to transfer the hostages to the safe haven. Supposedly the orders were given by Alfonso Cano, Farc top commander since the death of Manuel Marulanda last March.
This way they coordinated with “Cesar” to take the hostages to a place near the Apaporis River, between the departments of Guaviare and Vaupes, in the far Eastern part of Colombia, where the captives would be picked up by the helicopters. In reality, the helicopters, as well as the crew members on board were undercover Army intelligence agents. These agents had trained their roles as members of the humanitarian organization for ten days. They were wearing badges and a Che Guevara T-shirt, as described later by Ingrid Betancourt in the press conference she held, minutes after arriving to Bogotá.
The helicopters had been carefully painted in white and red and were Russian-made. The daring operation went as far as convincing “Cesar” himself that it was necessary for him and his lieutenant “Gafas” to travel in the helicopters to personally hand over the hostages to his Farc commander. The hostages were placed on one of the helicopters, all handcuffed.
It is not yet clear whether someone in the guerrilla group that held the hostages collaborated with the government and helped to convince his partners that the story of the helicopters was truly ordered by commander Cano. About two weeks ago, the President himself had announced that one guerrilla member wanted to flee the guerrillas together with Íngrid and other hostages.
Once the helicopters took off, the four crew members subdued the two Farc guerillas, and the 15 captives were informed that they had just been liberated.
“We are from the Colombian National Army,” announced one of the crew members. “You will not be flying to another guerilla camp but to a Colombian Army military base in San José del Guaviare.” Thereafter, a plane took the freed captives to Catam Military Airport in Bogotá.
“Suddenly something happened and I saw the Farc commander that for so long had been so cruel to us totally naked and with bandages covering his eyes,” said Betancourt.
The Army opted not to open fire nor attempt to capture the other members of “Cesar’s” group, about 15 men, which had escorted the hostages up to the helicopter in order to avoid a risky situation.
“This operation had never been tried before, and will be passed down in history for the audacity and effectiveness of the Colombian Armed Forces’ professionalism and high quality,” stated Minister Santos in the press conference that announced the great news event.
Meanwhile, the French president, in a world televised speech, thanked President Uribe and the minister for a job well done and offered to send a plane to transport all of Ingrid’s family to France.