Why Special Forces Are America's Tool Of Choice In Colombia And Around The Globe
Such attacks are more rule than exception, so the Green Berets' first days at Arauca are spent shoring up the 18th Brigade's security arrangements. Cameras, lights, motion-detection sensors, sandbags--the Americans have brought them all and more. A sniper watchtower rising from Correa's barracks at the rear of the base provides a clear view of Arauca, a flyblown ranch town. The Venezuelan border lies just a mile beyond, affording the rebels ready sanctuary when they need it. Early on, Correa's and Gadoury's men rebuilt the rectangular sandbagged bunkers they found and introduced the Colombians to the triangular design the Special Forces favor. Three-sided bunkers require fewer men to defend and allow those inside to cover each other in firefights. Such precautions aren't for show. One night, soldiers of the 18th Brigade learned that a car bomb was being assembled nearby. Correa quickly ordered his men and a reporter inside the redesigned sandbagged barracks. The night passed without incident. But the preparation paid off weeks later when four car bombs exploded.
Dangerous as things can get in Arauca, that's not the ultimate destination of Gadoury's A-Team. That distinction belongs to a place so desolate and dangerous that the U.S. Air Force won't fly its cargo planes there. Instead, Gadoury's men board a rattling Colombian C-130 that hauls them and their gear a half-hour west to a beleaguered outpost called Saravena. If Arauca is Dante's first ring of hell, Saravena is its innermost ring. On the flight there, the C-130 passes over the Occidental-Colombian oil complex known as Caño Limon, then follows the 480-mile pipeline that runs from Arauca to the Caribbean. Oil began flowing through the pipeline 17 years ago. Since then, the pipeline has been bombed 962 times. From the windows of the C-130, Gadoury's men view a sea of lime-green coca bushes. They are controlled by the rebels, an endlessly renewable source of cash for more weapons purchases.
Dog bombs. No city in Colombia has been more devastated than Saravena. During the past year, 76 attacks have leveled buildings across town. The mayor's office, the police station, the town's only bank--even the Colombian Army's one urban post--have all been razed. The pink-stucco airport terminal--demolished by seven mortar rounds--is a shell. Rebels use an endless variety of tactics: bicycle bombs, burro bombs, dog bombs, mortars shot through sewer openings, booby traps, land mines. They even cut the top off an ice-cream truck and fashioned it into a launching pad for rampas.
The new quarters for Gadoury's A-Team in Saravena aren't much to look at. The town's military base is a postage stamp of grassy land next to the airport, which is wedged between two small farms. There's no fence around the base, just a 7-foot earthen berm. The Colombian commander, Col. Santiago Herrera, greets the Special Forces soldiers and briefs them on his operations to secure the base and the town.
As they move into their quarters, the Americans are a magnet for their local counterparts. Some of the Colombians scale the sandbag wall of the lemon-yellow barracks and just stare at the newcomers. Sean attracts lots of attention. He stands less than 6 feet tall, but his chest is wide and deep, his legs broad as tree trunks. One Colombian eyes him and wonders whether he takes special vitamins. Sean laughs. But he didn't build his body from a bottle. For years, he served on a combat scuba team dubbed "the body nazis" because they trained so relentlessly.