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The SOUTHCOM Reconnaissance Systems Program in Colombia Open Access Deposited

For decades, Colombia has remained the strongest and most consistent military ally of the United States in Latin America. As the threat emanating from Colombia transformed from a communist red tide to a criminalized white powder, Colombia’s geographical advantages and internal conflict positioned the Andean country to become America’s primary supplier of cocaine. Seeking to choke off the drug trade at its source and recognizing the utility of private military contractors (PMCs), various U.S. agencies turned to the private sector to carry out counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations funded through an initiative named Plan Colombia--the United States’ military, diplomatic, and aid program combating Colombian narcotrafficking and insurgent groups. One such 2002 contract resulted in the SOUTHCOM Reconnaissance Systems (SRS) program. Although the SRS program achieved some short- term success, the overall mission was ineffective due to technical deficiencies, mission creep, a dangerous hostage situation, and subsequent critical media coverage. A microcosm of the regulatory, oversight, and risks involved with the use of PMCs in implementing Plan Colombia, the SRS program is an interesting case for critics of U.S. reliance on PMCs and interventionism in Latin America.

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