Military Strategy Magazine  /  Volume 5, Issue 2  /  

Feeding Chaos: Why Air Campaigns Didn’t Defeat the FARC and Won’t Defeat ISIL

Feeding Chaos: Why Air Campaigns Didn't Defeat the FARC and Won't Defeat ISIL Feeding Chaos: Why Air Campaigns Didn't Defeat the FARC and Won't Defeat ISIL
To cite this article: Doane, Larry, “Feeding Chaos: Why Air Campaigns Didn't Defeat the FARC and Won't Defeat ISIL,” Infinity Journal, Volume 5, Issue 2, spring 2016, pages 23-28.

© Vladgalenko | – Marines Before Boarding The Plane Photo

In a nation torn apart by internal strife and rivalries for power, a terrorist organization emerged in the ungoverned spaces, bent on imposing its extreme ideology on the populace. This group laid out a multi-year plan to take the capital of the country, expand its territory, and recruit tens of thousands of fighters to its banner. In areas where it held power, this organization became the de facto government, dispensing social services and security to the occupied population. Coupled with a robust illicit funding stream, the organization grew and grew in power until it commanded the attention of major western powers and touched off an international struggle to defeat it. While this description could easily apply to the most notorious terrorist organization of today, the Islamic State (ISIL), it does not. Instead, this is a description of the origins of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, abbreviated FARC in Spanish, a 50-year-old terrorist organization. While not perfect mirrors of one another, understanding the rise and endurance of the FARC, even in the face of massive intervention in Colombia by the United States, sheds useful light on potential ways forward in the struggle against ISIL. Central to this understanding will be the nexus of ungoverned space, radical ideology, and access to illicit funding key to the survival of both the FARC and ISIL. In light of this, efforts to defeat ISIL cannot only consist of kinetic strikes against fighters and funding sources, but must also recognize that separating the group from its funding sources means separating ISIL from the population it oppresses.

Civil wars are exacerbated and prolonged by the presence of lootable wealth. This wealth can take many forms, from so-called blood diamonds to drugs to oil. The fundamental characteristics for lootable wealth are the portability of the commodity and the existence of an unregulated, or “black”, market for the goods. Furthermore, the commodity is generally lootable when terrorists or other non-state actors can use relatively simple means to extract the resource from the surrounding environment.[i] In the case of diamonds, for example, the ability to extract the stones by simple means and then smuggle them across borders to waiting markets directly affected their influence on civil wars. In situations where complicated mining machinery or specialized expertise was required to extract diamonds, they played a smaller role in prolonging conflicts. Interestingly, in the case of secondary, or alluvial, diamonds, widespread smuggling routes and markets often existed prior to the outbreak of conflict.[ii] Insurgent or terrorist organizations then co-opted these networks to funnel lootable wealth out of the conflict zone. In both Syria and Colombia, these pre-existing smuggling routes and robust unofficial economic activity were instrumental in the genesis of both the FARC and ISIL. The presence of these mobile, valuable goods created an opportunity for terrorist and insurgent organizations to finance their operations while also creating business relationships with smuggling networks able to move guns and currency in and out of the conflict zone.

In the case of the FARC, the primary lootable good was, of course, drugs. Just as in the example of diamond-fueled conflicts in Africa, the presence of cocaine cultivation in Colombia provided vast amounts of funding to the FARC and enabled its rapid growth. Gauging this growth, the FARC consisted of 802 fighters across nine fronts in 1978. By the 1990s, this group was 18,000 fighters strong and held territory exceeding 42,000 square miles in size. This growth was the result of the $250 to $400 million annually generated by the FARC’s drug trafficking network.[iii] Just as important, the nature of the drug trade lent itself to the growth of the FARC as a pseudo-state in the jungles of Colombia. Many units within the FARC were content to leave the cultivation and purification of cocaine and its precursors to the farmers and residents of the territory it occupied. Instead, the FARC levied a series of taxed on these groups, from drug protection fees to an outright “war tax” to defray the costs of the struggle against the central government.[iv] This exchange provided the vestiges of statehood to the FARC as it extracted funds from the population in return for rudimentary social services, security and a type of trade authority in this case. Similarly to the taxation policies of the FARC, ISIL generates a significant amount of its wealth through taxation of the population under its control. In fact, some estimates place the revenue generated through taxation as a greater source of funds than illicit oil sales. The Geneva Centre for Security policy estimates that ISIL generates $360 million a year in taxation ranging from business and income taxes to personal “protection” taxes levied against Christians.

Additionally, by predominately taxing the drug trade instead of directly engaging in it, the FARC also gained a valuable propaganda tool when the governments of Colombia and the United States started to directly attack the coca plant through aerial fumigation. Many of the coca growers in Colombia were small farmers, rather than drug lords, and grew coca to supplement their meager incomes. These coca eradication tactics threatened the livelihood and even the health of many of these small farmers and drove them to the FARC for protection.[v] This had the dual effect of both legitimizing the FARC as a source of security for local peasants as well as providing an effective recruiting narrative for the organization. It remains to be seen if people living under ISIL control will view ISIL as a protective force against western air attacks that strike at oil production infrastructure.

In taking oil rich regions of Syria and Iraq, ISIL gained control of an oil industry complete from extraction to refinery. By some estimates, this production system provides ISIL with between $1 million and $2 million a day in profit.[vi] This enterprise also frees ISIL from the need for external state support as, between other criminal activities and oil smuggling, ISIL generates all the income it needs to fund its operations.[vii] There is an interesting parallel here to the experience of the FARC in the 1990s. The FARC, ostensibly a communist guerrilla organization, received initial support from the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s, but rapidly progressed to an independently funded organization with the rise of its drug trafficking enterprise.[viii] This allowed the FARC to survive the fall of the Soviet Union and continue to operate decades after its initial financial benefactor ceased to exist. The organic funding sources of ISIL insulate it in a similar fashion, particularly in comparison to other Islamist groups such as Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda, highly dependent on fundraising from external donors, found itself vulnerable to financial sanctions aimed at restricting transfers of funds aimed at supporting the organization.[ix] ISIL, however, with its access to self-generated income from smuggling and criminal activity, is immune to many of these tactics. As in the case of the FARC, self-generated income streams effectively inoculates these organizations from the effects of many financial sanctions.

The influence of lootable wealth on organizational cohesion is also apparent in examining the genesis of the FARC. In the 1970s, the Soviet Union established diplomatic relations with the government of Colombia. This also marked the end of financial aid to the FARC from the Soviet government.[x] As a result, the FARC experienced a number of setbacks into the 1980s as pro-government paramilitary groups scored a number of victories. The FARC, desperate for funding, attempted to extort funds from the Medellin cartel, a growing cocaine trafficking organization. This backfired, however, as Pablo Escobar, the cartel’s leader, chose to use his own paramilitary forces to fight the FARC rather than pay taxes.[xi] The combined pressure of government forces and the Medellin cartel alongside difficulties in securing funding left the FARC limited in its ability to grow. However, in the early 1990s, the FARC took advantage of a Colombian offensive against Escobar and successful efforts by the American government to dismantle the Medellin cartel. The FARC pushed back into the Middle Magdalena Valley while the fight against the Medellin cartel occupied Colombian forces elsewhere and the Cali cartel rose to take the place of the defeated Medellin cartel.[xii] By the early 1990s, the FARC had recovered significant amounts of lost terrain. More importantly to the FARC, the Cali cartel approached the drug trade in a far more low profile way than the Medellin cartel and agreed to pay taxes to the FARC. With renewed funding and the removal of one of its chief competitors, the FARC mushroomed in size and power, doubling its available combat forces to 7,000 fighters from 1986 to 1995.[xiii]

The long-term influence of drug money influenced the cohesion of the FARC. By the late 1990s, the FARC chose to eliminate many of the middlemen involved in the drug trade and started collecting the basic coca paste precursor to cocaine directly from the farmers.[xiv] This marked a shift from simply exacting taxes and protection fees from the drug cartels to becoming directly involved in trafficking. This direct involvement boosted profit margins, further feeding the success of the organization. It is not coincidental that the two largest coca-producing areas under FARC control, Caqueta and Putumayo, were also the sites of the largest battlefield successes the FARC saw against the Colombian army.[xv] Drug money appeared to have a direct link to combat effectiveness. Yet, the FARC struggled with how drug profits played into the narrative behind their organization. Indeed, the organization has gone out of its way in the past to assert that the drug trade is not vital to their operation and the presence of coca cultivation in their territory is simply a means to financially assist the peasant farmer.[xvi] Thus, the FARC faces a dilemma. Drug money is certainly necessary, perhaps even the most necessary contributor to military success. However, connections to drug trafficking open the FARC to political criticism and even schism within its own ranks. Increasingly, the FARC has found itself fighting against smugglers and even other left-wing organizations such as the National Liberation Army of Colombia (ELN) over control of the drug trade.[xvii] The FARC may find itself fighting its own members as it pursues a peace settlement with the government, an arrangement sure to require the FARC to cease its involvement in the drug trade. Despite any such agreement, however, the strong possibility exists that some FARC members will be loath to relinquish their hold on a lucrative activity and continue to traffic drugs in a post-conflict scenario.[xviii]

Returning to consideration of ISIL and its link to lootable goods, several parallels to the experience of the FARC emerge. ISIL, as previously noted, garners a staggering amount of wealth from its control of oil smuggling in its controlled territory. Just as in the case of the FARC, the wealth ISIL has amassed has, in no small part, fueled the growth and reach of the organization. Interestingly, while the drug trade threatened the political reputation of the FARC, ISIL has no similar problem with oil smuggling. The commodity oil itself is innocuous, yet, in a reversal from the experience of the FARC, the political reputation of ISIL may impede its ability to conduct its smuggling business. ISIL relies upon unaffiliated intermediaries to smuggle oil to buyers and even establishes fronts at refineries to hide its involvement in the illicit oil.[xix] Post-refinery, ISIL remains almost completely disengaged from the movement or sale of the refined oil and gasoline. It does, however, levy taxes on traders in a fashion similar to the FARC. While the FARC coined it a protection tax, ISIL uses the term zakat, or tithe, to justify its taxation.[xx] In a further similarity, ISIL appears to focus its revenue generation on the earliest stages of loot generation, just as the FARC did when it focused on coca cultivation.

The focus of ISIL on revenue generation in the earliest stages of production provides a illustrative parallel to the FARC when considering methods by which opponents could disrupt their revenue stream. Simply striking the sources of production from the air may be ineffective. A principal tool in the anti-drug campaigns of the United States and Colombia has been the aerial spraying of herbicides meant to cut off the raw materials used to produce drugs. The efficacy of this policy, however, has been in doubt since the earliest days of the tactic’s use in Colombia.[xxi] The eradication of a particular coca-growing site through herbicide use lasts from 4 to 12 months as coca growers work to plant new crops or salvage those that survived the aerial fumigation. The FARC retains control of the land, despite its temporary incapacitation as a coca producer. Thus, the aerial fumigation is, at best, a temporary setback and does nothing to affect the structural process behind coca production and its ability to generate revenue for the FARC.[xxii]

Further, the aerial fumigation plan may have been counterproductive in stemming the flow of support to the FARC. Coca growers, often otherwise employed as subsistence farmers, are understandably opposed to this policy and turned to the FARC for protection. Aerial fumigation also engendered ill will towards the Colombian government as it propagated the FARC’s narrative of a war on the peasantry by the Colombian government as well as raising legitimate concerns on the health effects of aerial fumigation.[xxiii] Given the failure of aerial fumigation to alter significantly the supply chain structure for coca paste as well as its temporary effects on individual coca fields, it appears that aerial fumigation is a less than optimal anti-drug technique. When viewed as a counterinsurgency tactic aimed at reducing the revenue flow to the FARC, aerial fumigation appears even less optimal as the negative effects it has on the population’s opinion of the legitimate government further compound its poor anti-drug effects.

Returning to ISIL, the parallels between aerial fumigation of coca fields and air strikes aimed at the illicit oil networks in ISIL held territory is apparent. Just as in Colombia, the focus of ISIL on the early stages of production for revenue generation means that effective supply reduction tactics need to target the sources of crude oil production and its refinement. Attacking post-refinery networks would be just as ineffective in attacking ISIL as arresting drug dealers in the United States was ineffective in attacking the FARC. It would appear that many counter-ISIL coalition members concur with this assessment as news reports indicate Russian, French, and American airstrikes have all targeted ISIL controlled refineries and oil pumping stations.[xxiv] Going further, recent U.S. strikes have also targeted dozens of oil trucks in an attempt to disrupt ISIL’s ability to move crude oil from source locations to refineries. However, the effects of these actions remain difficult to measure.

Just as with the example of aerial fumigation in Colombia, counter-ISIL efforts must take care not to exacerbate the overall strategic problem to create temporary tactical gains. Strikes on oil pumping sites may disable ISIL’s ability to generate crude oil but, as with Colombian coca field eradication, such effects are temporary. Coca growers replanted their fields and oil traders will repair their pumping sites. Indeed, attacking pumping stations could also inadvertently generate and additional black market in repair parts and materials for these pumping stations, much as the bombing campaign in Iraq in 2003 created a black market for power generation and transmission equipment.[xxv] This would likely compound the problem of cutting off ISIL revenue as the existence of any black market provides the organization with an opportunity to tax illicit trade. As noted previously in this paper, stopping ISIL’s ability to tax populations may prove a more effective financial weapon than strictly destroying illicit oil infrastructure.

The United States recently destroyed dozens of oil transport trucks in ISIL held territory with the stated goal of dismantling the group’s ability to smuggle crude oil. While, at first glance, this tactic seems sound and in line with other strikes on ISIL refineries and pumping locations, the U.S. and its allies must be careful and heed the possibility of this tactic backfiring as aerial fumigation did in Colombia. Clearly, the destroyed trucks were a valid target, but the wisdom of striking them may be suspect. The trucks were, at a minimum, civilian driven if not outright owned by their operators. The United States, aware of this fact and anxious to avoid civilian casualties, dropped leaflets prior to attacking in an effort to warn the drivers and get them away from their vehicles.[xxvi]

Just as subsistence farmers in Colombia turned to coca cultivation as a way out of poverty, it is just as likely that these truck drivers are smuggling ISIL oil out of financial need and not ideological zeal. Destroying the means of their livelihood presented a tactical success in degrading ISIL’s ability to move oil, but it also potentially drove more civilians on the ground to seek protection from ISIL. Truck drivers deprived of their jobs will not likely look favorably on the countries that attacked them. The attack of ordinary citizens, rather than armed militants, also provides ISIL a potent recruiting narrative as well as an opportunity to present the group as fighting to protect citizens from foreign attackers, regardless of the legitimacy of such a statement. As in Colombia, the destruction of transport vehicles yields a temporary tactical gain in exchange for a potentially long-term negative strategic effect. Colombian subsistence farmers lacked options besides coca cultivation and banding with the FARC. Creating a similar situation for civilian truck drivers in ISIL held territory would be just as counter-productive.

The Colombian example does not only provide cautionary tales against what not to do. The more successful later years of the counterinsurgency efforts against the FARC also provide some potentially effective ways forward for dealing with ISIL. These efforts highlight the second portion of this paper’s thesis, the siphoning away of new recruits for the organization, and how that effort can be synergistic with efforts to cleave ISIL from its funding sources. Integrating military operations with concurrent governmental efforts has always been the hallmark of successful counterinsurgency efforts. Colombia is no different. Beginning in 2002, the Colombia government adopted a coordinated approach against the FARC that sought to simultaneously separate the FARC from its funding sources as well as compete with the local populace for their allegiance. In broad strokes, this plan meant to expand the control of the legitimate government over areas held by the FARC. Once established, governmental organizations would follow to provide alternative economic opportunities and restore criminal justice operations against illicit drug traffickers.[xxvii] This tactic is emblematic of the classic counterinsurgency strategy of “clear, hold, build” adopted by many governments faced with an insurgent population. In the case of Colombia, it appears that this effort has been effective in reducing militant numbers as wells as reducing coca production in government held areas.[xxviii] Planners cannot directly overlay this technique on the struggle against ISIL, but it does illustrate potential ways forward, particularly in the integration of military and governmental efforts.

The three legged stool formed by Colombia’s strategy consisted of reestablishing governmental control over an area, providing alternative outlets for the population’s economic needs, and reestablishing a functional criminal justice system to combat drug traffickers. The corollary when applied to ISIL may look like this: reestablish non-ISIL control over an area, provide alternative outlets for the population’s grievances, economic or otherwise, and create a fair and functioning method for the creation and distribution of oil wealth. While similar, the subtle differences between the Colombian example and its application against ISIL are important and provide key guidance on the way forward.

The first divergence between the Colombian example and its application against ISIL is the lack of a trusted government partner in Syria to retake control of ISIL held areas. Northern Iraq may offer a more encouraging situation as the central government has managed to bring some Sunni tribal forces into their struggle to retake Anbar province. The Colombian government, albeit imperfect, provided a capable partner to the United States and was able to both militarily push the FARC from areas and then have the political legitimacy to hold the ground afterwards. The Assad government is unable to fill this role on its side of the border in Syria out of both military weakness and its political odium on the world stage. While Russian intervention may create a diplomatic window to include some version of the Assad regime in the wider counter-ISIL struggle, it is unlikely that the U.S. will tolerate its inclusion in its current form as a strategic partner. While this lack of government partners appears to doom the Colombian analogy, looking to other forces provides an alternative. The Kurdish regional government and its Peshmerga forces have already demonstrated themselves to be able combatants against ISIL[xxix]. While their use complicates relations with a number of regional partners, not least of which is Turkey, the Kurds may be the best option for pushing ISIL out of oil producing regions and establishing governmental control. Similarly, the moderate rebel groups within Syria are a potential ally to create non-ISIL controlled regions in the area. However, neither the Kurds nor the Syrian rebels currently have the military power to completely remove ISIL from the region. Western military assistance is likely required for this effort, yet it is clear that without Syrian government partners, these forces may be the only option for a viable counterinsurgency strategy against ISIL that permanently separates them from their means of funding.[xxx]

Turning to the second leg of the counter-ISIL strategy and its divergence from the Colombian example is the problem of the underlying grievances that lead to the rise of ISIL in the first place. The FARC was ostensibly a communist guerrilla movement with a political goal of overthrowing the state and establishing a socialist government. ISIL, on the other hand, seeks a religious caliphate and the establishment of sharia law over its territories. While initially incongruous, a deeper examination of these differences demonstrates the continued validity of this paper’s thesis. The FARC’s appeal was that it addressed the crushing poverty much of the rural population lived in. The political message of the group resonated with many of the people living under its control as the FARC ably painted the central government as indifferent to the plight of the peasantry.[xxxi] Similarly, the religious motivations of ISIL resonate along the deep sectarian lines within the region. ISIL is a Wahhabi organization at its core, a version of extreme Sunni Islam. It appeals in particular to Sunni Muslims in the region who feel oppressed by local Shia majorities in their governments or view Sunni governments as apostate regimes inextricably corrupted by the West.[xxxii] Successful counterinsurgents must address the appeal of this ideology, particularly to Muslims living under the Shia dominated governments of Iraq and Syria. Just as the Colombian example was anchored by finding alternate means for the population to address its economic grievances, any successful counter-ISIL campaign must recognize the need for a religious outlet for minority groups that feel oppressed by sectarian governments. Failure to address this fundamental grievance will doom any counterinsurgency strategy to failure.

The third and final leg of the stool of a counter-ISIL strategy is the restoration of oil wealth production and its fair and equitable distribution. This, again, appears to diverge significantly with the third leg of the Colombian strategy and its focus on restoring law and order in opposition to the drug trade. Yet, as in the previous two counterpoints, further examination of this difference yields instructive insights on ways to succeed against ISIL. At its core, the problem of both the drug trade and oil revenues is an issue of inclusion and fairness. In the case of the Colombian drug trade, peasant farmers felt locked out of the wider economic system and saw coca cultivation as their only means for advancement. This further exacerbated the feelings of isolation from the central government as coca cultivation only drove the peasantry closer to the FARC. The distribution of oil wealth in Iraq tells a similar story. While the Iraqi Constitution calls for the equitable distribution of the country’s oil wealth, the lack of effective systems to do so or to decide on fair distribution has resulted in a majoritarian, “winner take all” approach to the money.[xxxiii] With the Iraqi government dominated by Shias, many Sunni minorities have felt disenfranchised and isolated from these economic opportunities. As this paper argues, it is vital to cleave ISIL from its funding sources. Just as importantly, however, is that once counter-ISIL forces capture those sources of wealth they must fairly distribute that wealth across ethnic groups and sectarian lines to avoid reigniting passions and creating a sense of isolation from the central government. This will be particularly difficult if the counter-ISIL forces do not actually come from the Iraqi government, but from sectarian groups like Kurdish Peshmerga forces or Shia militias. Recent progress by Iraqi security forces allied with Sunni tribal fighters is encouraging. If this partnership can lead to a political discussion that heals some of the divides between the Sunni tribes and the central government, particularly over oil revenue, more permanent progress may be possible.

Despite the differences, planners constructing an effective counter-ISIL strategy will benefit from learning the lessons of past counterinsurgencies such as Colombia’s struggle with the FARC. While the two situations are certainly not identical, nor even completely analogous in places, the overall lessons are still instructive. If nothing else, planners must acknowledge that the presence of lootable wealth, particularly in the form of oppressed and taxable populations, and a robust smuggling economy are certain to prolong the conflict. The FARC’s struggle against the Colombian government would have certainly collapsed without drug money. Instead, the insurgency is past its fiftieth year. It is likely that Syria is on a trajectory for a similar fate without intervention.

The cases of Syria and Colombia point to two key factors disposing those conflicts towards the exploitation of lootable wealth and the subsequent prolongment of the war. The first, already explored in this paper, is the presence of lootable wealth. The second, and more distressing factor in the case of Syria, is the preexisting smuggling nodes in both countries that were rapidly coopted by the insurgencies. Colombia has a long history of a well-established contraband network, moving goods from gemstones to untaxed cigarettes across the porous borders of South America.[xxxiv] Once coca paste became the most profitable good to smuggle, drug cartels quickly retooled these smuggling routes to serve the narcotics trade. Turning to Syria, a similar situation exists for ISIL to exploit. The pre-war Syrian economy was already extensive, with some estimates placing it at as high as 24% of the official GDP reported.[xxxv] There are two hazards that arise from this preexisting condition. The first, and more obvious, is that ISIL already has access to a well-established and robust smuggling network to move illicit goods and funnel weapons and fighters into the conflict. The second, and potentially more troubling, is that a large portion of the Syrian population is profiting from the current state of civil war. Garnering popular support for conflict resolution will be that much more difficult when some parties have a financial interest in seeing the conflict continue. This factor certainly complicated Colombian peace talks and will be an issue in any attempt to resolve the conflict in Syria.

The presence of lootable wealth, however, is not entirely a negative situation for counterinsurgency efforts. Civil wars and insurgencies where the illicit trade of lootable goods finances combatants certainly do last many times longer than conflicts where these goods are unavailable. The presence of this wealth allows insurgencies to become self-sustaining movements, attracting recruits and financing operations. However, this wealth can also be a source of weakness as it can undermine the original ideological narrative of the organization. This could create a fissure between “true believers” and those motivated more by adventure and profit. Ultimately, successful counterinsurgencies will exploit this by simultaneously choking off the stream of illicit funds while creating political outlets to express grievances and draw away recruits. This effort, however, requires careful thought on the long-term consequences of efforts to stem illicit funds on the overall legitimacy of the insurgencies narrative. The Colombians experienced this in the practice of aerial fumigation of coca fields and the counter-ISIL coalition risks the same in airstrikes aimed the illicit crude oil distribution network. Even if these efforts to destroy smuggling assets prove necessary, a potent counter-narrative to ISIL propaganda must accompany them lest these attacks drive more of the population to the terrorists for protection. As the Colombian example illustrated, success required both choking off funding sources from the FARC as well as defeating their attempts to recruit more fighters. While destroying funding sources is possible through kinetic means, defeating a recruiting effort is not.

Ultimately, the lessons of Colombia paint an effective, if grim, way forward against ISIL. The existence of lootable wealth and a robust smuggling network in the region means that this will likely be a protracted struggle. Simply assaulting the group from the air or striking at their means of production is unlikely to yield a decisive result. Instead, counter-ISIL forces must prepare themselves for an extensive ground campaign to both cleave ISIL control of illicit funding sites and to restore governmental control of those assets. Most importantly, counter-ISIL strategies must include a way to wrest away ISIL’s pseudo-governmental control of populations. Concurrently, planners must find strategies to counter ISIL’s recruiting narrative and propaganda efforts. Ultimately, a synergistic effort to both wrest away ISIL’s physical control of oil facilities while addressing the underlying grievances and schisms within the populations of Syria and norther Iraq will be necessary. While difficult, the Colombian example shows that this type of coordinated strategy is possible and highly effective at defeating even an entrenched insurgency like the FARC. With a template in hand and history to guide them, what remains for the governments forming the counter-ISIL coalition is to find the political will to implement a counterinsurgency strategy that permanently divorces ISIL from both its sources of lootable wealth and the population it seeks to control.


[i] Pä Lujala, Nils Petter Gleditsch, and Elisabeth Gilmore, “2005. A diamond curse? Civil War and a Lootable Resource”, The Journal of Conflict Resolution 49, (4) (08), 540.
[ii] Ibid. 542.
[iii] Gonzalez,
[iv] Brent Baxton, “The Multiple Motivations of the FARC and Prospects for Peace in Colombia”, The Council on Hemispheric Affairs Washington Report on the Hemisphere, October 26, 2007, 10.
[v] Mark Peceny and Michael Durnan, “The FARC’s Best Friend: U.S. Antidrug Policies and the Deepening of Colombia’s Civil War in the 1990s”, Latin American Politics and Society, Summer, 2006, 101.
[vi] David Sanger and Julie Hirschfield Davis, “Struggling to Starve ISIL of Oil Revenue, US Seeks Assistance from Turkey,” New York Times, September 13, 2014.
[vii] Paul Rexton Kan, “Defeating the Islamic State: A Financial-Military Strategy”. Parameters, 44(4), Winter 2014, 72.
[viii] Paola Palacios, “Forced Migration as a Deterrence Strategy in Civil Conflict”, Contributions to Conflict Management, Peace Economics, and Development, vol. 17, 2011, 5.
[ix] Juan Miguel del Cid Gomez, “A Financial Profile of the Terrorism of Al-Qaeda and its Affiliates”, Perspectives on Terrorism, vol 4, 4, 2010.
[x] Palacios, 6.
[xi] Peceny and Durnan, 103.
[xii] Ibid. 103-4.
[xiii] Ibid. 104.
[xiv] Alan Labrousse, “The FARC and the Taliban’s Connection to Drugs”, Journal of Drug Issues, Winter 2005, vol. 35, 178.
[xv] Ibid. 179.
[xvi] Labrousse, 174.
[xvii] John Otis, “The FARC and Colombia’s Illegal Drug Trade”, Wilson Center Latin American Program Papers, November 2014, 4-5.
[xviii] Ibid. 2.
[xix] Erika Solomon, Robin Kwong, and Steven Bernard, “Inside ISIL Inc.: The journey of a barrel of oil”, Financial Times, October 14, 2015.
[xx] Ibid.
[xxi] Ricardo Vargas, “The Anti-Drug Policy, Aerial Spraying of Illicit Crops and the Social, Environmental and Political Impacts in Colombia”, Journal of Drug Issues, Winter 2002, vol. 32, 13.
[xxii] Ibid. 13.
[xxiii] Peceny and Durnan, 101.
[xxiv] “ISIL oil infrastructure under U.S. fire”, ARA News, November 19, 2015.
[xxv] Kan, 77-78.
[xxvi] Michael R. Gordon, “U.S. Warplanes Strike ISIL Oil Trucks in Syria”, The New York Times, November 16, 2015.
[xxvii] Kan, 78.
[xxviii] June Beittel, “Peace Talks in Colombia,” Congressional Research Service, April 3, 2014, 11-12; United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “Colombia: Coca Cultivation Survey 2013,” (June 2014), 16; and Thomas Marks, “A Model Counterinsurgency: Uribe’s Colombia (2002-2006) vs FARC,” Military Review 87, no. 2 (March-April 2007): 50-51.
[xxix] Ross Harrison, “Confronting the ‘Islamic State’”, Parameters, 44(3), 39.
[xxx] Kan, 78.
[xxxi] Gonzalez,
[xxxii] David Kirkpatrick, "ISIL’ Harsh Brand of Islam Is Rooted in Austere Saudi Creed”, The New York Times, September 24, 2014.
[xxxiii] Mishkat al-Moumin, “Managing Oil in Post Conflict Iraq”, Asian Journal of Environment and Disaster Management, vol. 2, 1, 117.
[xxxiv] Ricardo Garcia, “Drug Trafficking and its impact on Colombia: an economic overview”, Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies, vol. 28, 55, 277.
[xxxv] Matt Herbert, “Partisans, Profiteers, and Criminals: Syria’s Illicit Economy”, The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Winter 2014, vol. 38, 1, 70.