The Colombian military began using U.S.-supplied ScanEagle UAS for counterterrorism and counter-narcotics operations in 2006, according to a classified State Department cable released last week by WikiLeaks.
According to the December 2006 cable from then-U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William B. Wood, the aircraft initially were to be used “to support U.S. hostage rescue efforts and assist” the Colombian military’s pursuit of guerrilla leaders. “But it promises to be equally useful for combat against terrorists and in riverine drug interdiction,” Wood wrote. The cable, which referred to a “test package” of drones that arrived in Colombia in July 2006, called them a “potentially high-impact new addition” to U.S.-Colombian intelligence cooperation.
It was not clear from the cable whether the drones were maintained by U.S. military forces in Colombia or given to that country’s armed forces as part of the multibillion-dollar military aid programme there. Wood wrote that the UAS “have proven useful before, during, and after strikes against the FARC,” or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the main guerrilla group. He described them as in use by all branches of the Colombian military.
“When a UAS ‘pilot’ flew by chance over a truck unloading FARC fighters and the [Colombian Air Force] happened to have a bomber available nearby,” he said, “an aerial assault was launched within 30 minutes.” In another incident, a UAS camera “caught two vehicles being loaded with coca,” and a helicopter gunship was dispatched to destroy them.