Operation Jaque (Spanish: Operación Jaque), named after the first letter of the month of the operation, July, and referencing check in chess, was a Colombian military operation that resulted in the successful rescue of 15 hostages, including former Colombian presidential candidate Íngrid Betancourt. The hostages had been held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The operation took place on July 2, 2008, along the Apaporis River in the department of Guaviare.
The other hostages freed were Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes, and Keith Stansell, three American military contractors employed by Northrop Grumman and 11 Colombian military and police. Two FARC members were arrested.
The intelligence gathering for the operation began long before it was actually carried out; according to one American official, Colombia had managed to place a mole within the FARC itself one year, if not more, before the operation. According to a colonel involved in the operation, Colombia had located the hostages roughly four months before the rescue. Between this time and the actual mission, Colombian forces spotted five of the hostages while they were bathing in the Apaporis river (including the three Americans), leading them to plant motion-sensors and video cameras along the waterway. At one point a FARC guerilla accidentally kicked a device while walking in the jungle to relieve himself; however, the surveillance operation's cover was not blown.
The idea of tricking the FARC into regrouping the hostages was seriously considered in late May, and the following month General Freddy Padilla de Leon brought the rescue plan to his civilian superiors. Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos is said to have agreed quickly to the plan; President Álvaro Uribe, after weighing the possible diplomatic consequences, also approved it.
Santos said the FARC rebels had been tricked into handing over the hostages by soldiers posing as members of a fictitious non-government organisation that supposedly would fly the captives to a camp to meet rebel leader Alfonso Cano; to prepare for the role, they took acting classes for a week and a half. Two soldiers impersonated a cameraman and journalist from pan-Latin American TV station teleSUR, two posed as fellow guerilla fighters, and four troops dressed as aid workers. Several aspects of the mission were apparently designed to mimic previous Venezuelan hostage transfers, including the actual composition of the group and the type and markings of the helicopters used.
According to Betancourt, the hostages were moved early on the morning of July 2 across the river to a landing zone where they were told by their captors that they were going to be moved to a different location.
Two Mi-17 helicopters came to the landing area in Guaviare, where one, carrying Colombian agents wearing Che Guevara T-shirts, landed to pick up the hostages. In total the helicopter spent 22 minutes on the ground, during which time the hostages were handcuffed and loaded aboard; the pilot and copilot communicated with fellow security personnel in code.
The local FARC commander César and an additional rebel boarded the helicopters along with the hostages. They were persuaded to hand over their pistols and were subdued in the air by Colombian forces. Betancourt later told a press conference she at first had had no idea she was being rescued until she saw her captor naked and blindfolded on the floor of the aircraft. She and the others were told: "Somos el Ejército Nacional. ¡Ustedes están en libertad!" (We are the national army. You are free).
In case of failure, Colombia had prepared an armada of 39 helicopters to ferry 2000 troops plus U.S. advisors. They would have been brought within a half-mile of the original landing zone in under 15 minutes.
Alleged foreign involvement
The United States reportedly provided a transport plane and a medical team for the liberated hostages. According to Der Spiegel, Colombian authorities had used American spy satellites to track the location of the hostages since the beginning of 2008.
Keith Trowbridge (SarDev International), an American Kidnap and Ransom consultant allegedly provided Colombia with ground reconnaissance and the intelligence that led to the placement of the mole within FARC. It is believed that Trowbridge spearheaded the deadly yet successful rescue of a teenage hostage from the FARC 6 kilometers south of Medellin in 2006, affording him a unique relationship with the Colombia Judiciary. Although Colombia acknowledges Mr. Trowbridge's help in the Medellín case, they strongly denied his intervention.
Israeli tracking technology was also, allegedly, used in the rescue. Some reports also highlighted the role of Global CST, a company owned by former Israeli Brigadier Generals Israel Ziv and Yossi Kuperwasser, which has a US$10 million contract with Colombia to provide security advising and equipment, although Ziv Kuperwasser declared their role was only general training of armed forces and commented that ""We don't want to take credit for something we didn't do" and added that they did not take part in the rescue, calling it "a Colombian Entebbe operation". According to Colombia's W Radio, the Colombian military strongly denied that Global CST played any direct role in the operation.
Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos emphasized, at a press conference on July 4, that there was no direct foreign involvement of any kind in the operation. However, he did say that a U.S. surveillance aircraft monitored the situation.
Allegations of payment
On July 4, 2008, Radio Suisse Romande reported that unnamed "reliable sources" had told it the rescue took place after a payment of USD 20 million by the United States. According to Le Monde, the French Foreign Ministry denied the payment of any ransom by France.
Frederich Blassel, Radio Suisse Romande journalist, told Colombia's W Radio that, according to his source, the release was not negotiated directly with FARC but with Gerardo Aguilar, alias César, one of the two guerrillas captured during the operation, who would have received the payment of USD 20 million. According to Blassel, the two rebels could be given new identities by Spain, France, and Switzerland.
The Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos, and Vice President Francisco Santos, in response to these claims, denied any payment. "That information is absolutely false. It has no basis. We don't know where it comes from and why its being said". The Minister of Defense also added with a touch of irony that "Actually, it would have been a cheap offer, because we were willing to give up to USD 100 million..." "We would be the first to inform publicly, because it is part of our rewards system policy, and besides, it would speak much worse about the FARC".
According to Colombia's El Tiempo and W Radio, General Fredy Padilla de León, Commander of the Colombian Armed Forces, denied the existence of any payment by the Colombian government. General Padilla argued that if any payment had been made, it would have been better to make it publicly known, to use it as an incentive and to cause confusion within FARC's ranks. William Brownfield, the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, also denied the allegations.
These allegations lost much of its credibility when, in February 2009, Gerardo Aguilar, known as "César", was extradited to US by the Colombian Supreme Court on charges of narcotrafficking and then sentenced to 27 years in jail. He was charged with exchanging coca for weapons and supplies and with smuggling 1,000 kg of coca into the US since 2002. His sentimental partner, Nancy Conde Rubio (alias Doris Adriana) had already been extradited under charges of conspiring to aid and giving material support to terrorist organizations, after being captured in an independent operation.
Misuse of a Red Cross emblem
On July 15, 2008, it was reported that according to unpublished photos and video footage viewed by CNN, which the network declined to buy from its source and whose authenticity it could not verify, Colombian military intelligence misused an official International Red Cross emblem during the rescue operation.
According to CNN, the material in question showed one man wearing a bib with the official symbol for the Red Cross shortly before the rescue operation began. CNN also reported that one frame of a heavily edited official video released by Colombian authorities two days after the operation showed a person who seemed to be the same man, wearing what appeared to be part of a Red Cross bib.
According to international legal expert Mark Ellis, misuse of the Red Cross emblem would be a breach of the Geneva Conventions and may constitute a war crime, because it could possibly endanger the work of official humanitarian workers in the future.
During a national press conference, Colombian President Uribe had asked former hostage Ingrid Betancourt if she had seen any emblems on the helicopter participating in the rescue mission, which she denied.
According to CNN, the unpublished video footage showed the presence of a logo with the words "Mision Internacional Humanitaria" (International Humanitarian Mission), consisting of "a stylized red bird made up of wavy red lines above two curved branches of blue leaves", pasted on the sides of the helicopter. The same logo appeared on the web site for a NGO of the same name said to be based in Barcelona, Spain, though CNN was unable to contact or verify the existence of the organization.
An official Red Cross spokesman told CNN that "the International Committee of the Red Cross cannot confirm that its logo and/or the Red Cross emblem were used...the ICRC maintains an ongoing confidential dialogue with the Colombian authorities on a variety of humanitarian issues, including news reports that the Red Cross emblem may have been used in this operation."
On July 16, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe announced that an internal investigation had found that one of the officers who participated in the operation had individually decided to make unauthorized use of a Red Cross emblem, claiming that he was nervous and feared the presence of armed guerrillas. President Uribe said that Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos had apologized to the International Red Cross.
After the Colombian government's declarations, Red Cross spokesperson Yves Heller stated in Bogotá, Colombia that "parties to the conflict must respect the Red Cross emblem at all times and under all circumstances."
In Geneva, Switzerland, Red Cross spokesman Florian Westphal declared that "it was important for us that this clarification was made by the Colombian authorities at the highest level" and said that the international organization accepted the Colombian government's explanation.
On July 16, 2007, Colombian newsweekly Revista Semana published an online article stating that the International Humanitarian Mission NGO didn't exist, arguing that it was created by the Colombian military for the purposes of carrying out the rescue operation, and that its website used information from a real Barcelona-based organization, Global Humanitaria.
Semana cited a spokesperson for the Justice Department of Catalunya, Spain, who said that International Humanitarian Mission was never part of Catalunya's central register of legal entities. According to Semana's investigation, the official registry number used by the creators of the fake organization's website had been copied from the site for Global Humanitaria. Cinta Pluma, director of Global Humanitaria, denied having any participation in Operation Jaque or in the establishment of the false NGO, adding that they would consult their legal advisors before taking any action regarding the issue.
On July 17, in an online press release, Global Humanitaria expressed surprise at the unauthorized use of their organization's registry number and website data, stated that they had never participated in any humanitarian procedures involving FARC, that they hoped to meet with Colombian President Álvaro Uribe to clear up the situation, and requested respect for the organization's work and neutrality.
Immediately after the hostage rescue El Espectador commissioned an Ipsos-Napoleon Franco poll, which found that President Uribe's popularity had jumped from 73% to 91%, while 79% (previously 69%) of those polled stated that they would vote for him.
Betancourt, describing operation Jaque, said "I am unaware of a precedent to such a perfect mission. Maybe only the Israelis…their wonderful commandos may be reminiscent of the mission that took place here."
Immediately after the hostage rescue, Colombian military forces cornered the rest of FARC's 1st Front, the unit which had held the hostages captive. Colombian forces have so far elected not to attack the 1st Front, but is instead offering them amnesty if they surrender.
Gerardo Aguilar, known as "Cesar" was sent to the United States in July 2009 where U.S. federal courts put him on trial for trafficking in cocaine and other narcotics during his time in FARC. He was convicted on several trafficking charges and is now serving a 27-year sentence in federal prison.
Books about Operation Jaque
On February 2009 "Operacion Jaque" by Colonel Luis Alberto Villamarin Pulido. This book is complemented with abundant photographic material and reconstructs step by step the process, planning, implementation and outcome of the strategic operation. In July 2010 the book was published in electronic format (Amazon Kindle). Since then it has become the most read book about the topic in Kindle. It is currently available in its printed edition, Kindle, nook, iPad, iPhone, Android and Blackberry.
- Canada: David Emerson, Minister of Foreign Affairs, welcomed the action of the Government of Colombia resulting in the rescue of 15 hostages, "This is undoubtedly a historic event in Colombia's search for a lasting peace. We share the deep satisfaction and relief of the people of Colombia at the safe return of these hostages to their families."
- Chile: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet stated that "This is a victory for democracy, peace and freedom."
- Ecuador: Ecuadorian defense minister Javier Ponce stated that the liberation of the 15 hostages was something the world was waiting for, but also lamented the way it happened, saying "It is a pity it happened not as part of a peace process, but as a violent rescue by the Colombian Armed Forces." He claimed it diminishes the chances of a political resolution.
- France: French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke by telephone with Álvaro Uribe on the night before the operation. He later thanked Uribe and gave a live news conference with the children and sister of Íngrid Betancourt on the night of July 2. Immediately after, the family and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner boarded a French jet for Colombia. Various French political figures also expressed their relief with the rescue. In Paris some drivers honked their horns on the night of the rescue, and a public celebration was scheduled for July 3.
- Mexico: Mexican President Felipe Calderón telephoned President of Colombia Álvaro Uribe to congratulate him on the successful operation, hailing the strategy implemented to reinforce legality and order, which strengthens democratic life and social coexistence in Colombia.
- United States: U.S. President George W. Bush praised and thanked Uribe, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she was delighted with the rescue of the three American hostages. Republican presidential candidate John McCain, on a trip to Colombia, praised the rescue effort and urged the release of all hostages. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama also expressed praise at the rescue.
- Venezuela: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez stated that "We are overjoyed at the liberation of those people ... and even happier to learn they were freed without spilling a drop of blood."
List of hostages rescued
- Íngrid Betancourt
- Marc Gonsalves
- Thomas Howes
- Keith Stansell
- Lieutenant Juan Carlos Bermeo (Colombian Army)
- Sub-Lieutenant Raimundo Malagón (Colombian Army)
- Sergeant José Ricardo Marulanda (Colombian Army)
- Sergeant Erasmo Romero (Colombian Army)
- Corporal William Pérez (Colombian Army)
- Corporal José Miguel Arteaga (Colombian Army)
- Corporal Armando Flórez (Colombian Army)
- Lieutenant Vianey Rodríguez (Colombian National Police)
- Corporal Jhon Jairo Durán (Colombian National Police)
- Corporal Julio Buitrago (Colombian National Police)
- Subintendent Armando Castellanos (Colombian National Police)
- Operation Emmanuel
- Opération 14 juillet
- Out of Captivity, a book authored by Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Thomas Howes with the assistance of author Gary Brozek about their time spent as hostages of FARC guerrillas until their rescue.
- Padgett, Tim (2008-07-02). "Colombia's Stunning Hostage Rescue". TIME. Retrieved 2008-07-02.
- "Betancourt, U.S. contractors rescued from FARC". CNN. 2008-07-02. Retrieved 2008-07-02.
- "Betancourt, 14 others freed by Colombian forces". Monsters and Critics. 2008-07-02. Retrieved 2008-07-02.
- Romero; New York Times 2008-07-04 page 1
- "Comment nous avons libéré les otages". Le Figaro Magazine (in French). 2008-07-04. Retrieved 2008-07-05.
- Operacion Jaque - Como se planeo la operacion jaque, detalles y por menores de la operacion
- Allen-Mills, Tony (2008-07-06). "Daring sting freed Colombian jungle hostages". London: The Sunday Times. Retrieved 2008-07-06.
- "Colombia hostage Betancourt freed". BBC. 2008-07-03. Retrieved 2008-07-03.
- "Ministro Santos admitió uso ilegal de logo TeleSUR durante Operación Jaque" (in Spanish). teleSUR. 2008-07-23. Retrieved 2009-07-16.
- Romero; New York Times 2008-07-04 page 3
- Luhnow, David; Córdoba, José de (2008-07-03). "How 'Operation Check-Mate' Worked". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2008-07-03.
- "Old-fashioned fake-out results in freedom for hostages". CNN. 2008-07-03. Retrieved 2008-07-03.
- "Colombia tricks rebels into freeing hostages". MSNBC. 2008-07-03. Retrieved 2008-07-03.
- "Somos el Ejército Nacional. Ustedes están libres" (in Spanish). El Mundo. 2008-07-03. Retrieved 2008-07-03.
- Morales, Gabriel. "'Somos el Ejército Nacional. Ustedes están libres.'".
- Kraul, Chris (2008-07-04). "Colombia hostage rescue by deception". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-07-05.
- Kraul, Chris (2008-07-03). "15 hostages freed as FARC is fooled in cunning operation". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-07-03.
- Villamarin Pulido, Luis Alberto (2008-07-03). "Operacion Jaque". Ediciones Luis Villamarin. Retrieved 2008-07-03.
- Glüsing, Jens (2008-07-03). "Months of Intelligence Work Led to Betancourt's Rescue". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 2009-07-03.
- Melman, Yossi (2008-07-04). "Colombia hostage rescue: the Israeli angle". Haaretz. Retrieved 2008-07-04.
- "Fuerzas Militares no pagaron por rescate de 15 secuestrados" (in Spanish). W Radio. 4 July 2008.
- "Colombian video shows hostages joyfully hugging in helicopter during rescue". International Herald Tribune. 2008-07-05. Retrieved 2008-07-05.
- "Une libération achetée" (in French). Radio Suisse Romande. 4 July 2008.
- "Ingrid Betancourt à Paris : "Aujourd'hui, je pleure de joie"". Le Monde (in French). 4 July 2008.
- "Alias César recibió 20 millones de dólares por entregar secuestrados: Radio Suiza" (in Spanish). W Radio. 4 July 2008.
- "Periodista de radio Suiza afirma que se pagó por liberar a los rehenes" (in Spanish). Terra Actualidad, EFE. 4 July 2008.
- "Colombia desmintió el pago de un millonario rescate por Betancourt. La Capital" (in Spanish). La Capital. 4 July 2008.
- "No se pagó por rescate de secuestrados, afirma el comandante de las Fuerzas Militares". El Tiempo (in Spanish). 4 July 2008.
- "US denies ransom payout for hostage release: ambassador". Agence France-Presse. 2008-07-04. Retrieved 2008-07-04.
- "Top FARC Commander Sentenced to 27 Years in Prison for Conspiring to Import Tons of Cocaine into the United States". FBI. Retrieved 2016-01-09.
- "Extradición de César fue autorizada porque lo acusan de enviar miles de kilos de coca a E.E.U.U." (in Spanish). El Tiempo. 21 February 2009.
- "Colombia extradites captured guerrilla to US". NPR. 19 September 2009.
- "Noël Saez: Les geôliers de Betancourt ont été achetés" (in French). Le Figaro. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
- "Un expresidente me entregó el 'libreto' de la Operación Jaque". elespectador.com. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
- "Colombian military used Red Cross emblem in rescue". CNN. 2008-07-15. Retrieved 2008-07-16.
- "Colombia reconoce que un militar SÍ uso un emblema de la Cruz Roja" (in Spanish). Noticias 24. 2008-07-16. Retrieved 2008-07-16.
- "Betancourt rescuer wore Red Cross". BBC News. 2008-07-16. Retrieved 2008-07-16.
- "Colombian president says Red Cross symbol was used in hostage rescue mission". International Herald Tribune. 2008-07-16. Retrieved 2008-07-16.
- "Colombian Soldier Wore Red Cross Logo in Hostage Rescue". New York Times. 2008-07-17. Retrieved 2008-07-17.
- "ONG ficticia con la que se engañó a Farc usó registros de una organización verdadera" (in Spanish). Revista Semana. 2008-07-16. Retrieved 2008-07-17.
- "Global Humanitaria niega cualquier tipo de vínculo con la organización Misión Humanitaria Internacional" (in Spanish). Global Humanitaria. 2008-07-17. Retrieved 2008-07-17.
- Bronstein, Hugh (2008-07-06). "Popularity of Colombia's Uribe soars after rescue". Reuters. Retrieved 2008-07-06.
- "Betancourt rescue in Colombia: Israeli connection". Ynet. 4 July 2008.
- Hirsh, Michael, "A Smarter Way To Fight", Newsweek, July 21, 2008.
- "Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada - Minister Emerson Welcomes Liberation of Hostages in Colombia". 2008-07-05.
- BBC News:Reaction to Betancourt's Release - Retrieved on 2008-07-03
- "Equador lamenta modo como Betancourt foi solta" (in Portuguese). Folha de S.Paulo. 2008-07-02. Retrieved 2008-07-03.
- "Reacciones internacionales, un solo mar de felicitaciones" (in Spanish). El Tiempo. Retrieved 2008-07-03.
- Romero, Simon (2008-07-03). "15 hostages held by Colombian rebels are rescued". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 2008-07-02.
- "Soulagement après la libération d'Ingrid Betancourt". Le Monde (in French). 2008-07-03. Retrieved 2008-07-02.
- Presidencia de la Republica: President Calderón Congratulates Colombian Counterpart on Release of FARC Hostages - Retrieved on 2008-07-03
- "Rice 'delighted' at Colombia hostage rescue". AFP. 2008-07-02. Retrieved 2008-07-02.
- "McCain 'This is great news'". BBC. 2008-07-03. Retrieved 2008-07-03.
- Reuters:Chavez cheers Colombia hostage rescue - Retrieved on 2008-07-03
- Romero, Simon; Vace, Damien (2008-07-04). "Bold Colombia Rescue Built on Rebels' Disarray". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-04. (requires free registration)
- (Spanish) Operación Jaque presentation of the Colombian Defense Ministry
- (Spanish) Video of the rescue from the Colombian Defense Ministry
- (French) Timeline of Events from Le Monde
- (German) Report on ransom paid from stern.de
- Operation Jaque Repository Site from OperationJaque.com
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