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Hostages in Colombia freed by Colombian or U.S military?

July 4, 2008 | 10:42 am

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Another report from our man Chris Kraul in Colombia this morning provides further information about Wednesday's rescue of 15 hostages from the hands of the FARC leftist guerrilla group. As the three American hostages that were liberated arrived on American soil, details emerged about the operation which led to their rescue as well as that of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

Kraul writes that a fake humanitarian organization was created, complete with a special logo and a website. 

For several weeks Colombian armed forces constructed a fake universe, and with help from U.S. intelligence and equipment, managed to fool the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia insurgent group.   

Had the operation failed, the United States was prepared to participate in a "Plan B," which would have sent, within 15 minutes, 2,000 Colombian troops and U.S. advisors aboard 39 helicopters to within half a mile of the site.

According to Kraul, the rescue was planned and executed by the Colombians, and benefited from equipment, intelligence and years of training from the United States government, but the left-of-center NarcoNews claims that it was the U.S. government in the driver's seat all the way.

"A U.S. military special-operations unit carried out the recent rescue of three Defense Department contractors being held by the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)," according to a source who has firsthand knowledge of the operation, writes Bill Conroy on the site. The site does not reveal the source, but says it has never been led astray by that source in the past.

NarcoNews claims the operation was in fact led by the United States with Colombian support and that, in fact, the tracking of FARC communications was thanks to satellite phones planted within the group by the U.S.

Al Giordani, who writes for the Huffington Post as well as NarcoNews, wrote on his blog The Field that the record of the Colombian military in these sorts of raids is poor: "The success of yesterday's raid is how we know that Washington's fingerprints were all over this one."

Meanwhile, other media sources are asking whether the hostages' release was obtained not through a heroic rescue operation, but through the payment of money (i.e. a bribe). Read about it here. Meanwhile, the Guardian of London speculates that the hostages' release could be the end, or at least the beginning of the end, for the FARC. The British newspaper says that the event underscores the disarray of the FARC's command structure, and greatly reduces the FARC's leverage in dealing with the Colombian government.

Maybe we'll never really know what happened on Wednesday, but interest in the event promises to keep the accounts mounting for days to come.

-- Deborah Bonello in Mexico City and Reed Johnson in Los Angeles

Photo: Gerardo Aguilar Ramirez, alias “Cesar,” a rebel commander in charge of guarding the high-value hostages, in custody at a Bogota, Colombia, military base. Soldiers arrested him during the rescue; credit: William Fernando Martinez / Associated Press

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