Advocates of stronger U.S. action against the growing Iran-Venezuela ‘oil-for gold’ axis – such as me – were disappointed when the Trump administration allowed Iranian tankers carrying US-sanctioned gasoline to arrive unhindered in Venezuela this week. Since then, however, the U.S. has announced additional sanctions that may curb future Iranian oil shipments. This may be a smarter play.
We can probably also expect more U.S. “maximum pressure” tactics against Venezuela’s rogue socialist leader, Nicolas Maduro.
For one, the $15 million US government bounty on Maduro remains in effect.
Additionally, the Pentagon announced today that it is dispatching one of its recently formed Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs) to neighboring Colombia. According to Business Insider (BI), this will mark the first time one of the new units – designed to “train and advise partner forces has been sent to the region.”
While cocaine production has been increasing again in Colombia, many believe this move is also meant to send a message to Venezuela’s Maduro that U.S. forces are nearby.
The deployment of the U.S. Army’s 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade to Colombia is described as part of ongoing U.S ‘Enhanced Counter-Narcotics Operations,’ that include a large, recently dispatched flotilla of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships, and aircraft, operating in the Caribbean.
According to the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) based in Miami, reported BI, the unit being sent to Colombia is actually a company-size team of US soldiers that will support joint US-Colombia operations “by training, advising, and assisting host units.”
BI quoted a SOUTHCOM spokesperson as saying that they would not disclose specific locations due to operation security, but that the SFAB will work with Colombia’s army across the region “where drug trafficking remains a threat for local communities and international partners.”
The U.S. Embassy in Bogota added, according to BI, that the focus will be in poor, crime-ridden “Future Zones,” that the Colombian government wants to develop. BI noted that reports in Colombian media identified those zones as “the Bajo Cauca region and southern Córdoba in northwest Colombia; the Catatumbo region and Arauca on the eastern border with Venezuela; and in Nariño on the Pacific coast.”
Arauca’s location on the border does make it a locus of cross-border smuggling.
Robert Karl, an expert on the Colombian conflict, interviewed by BI, says the real “intent of this deployment will likely be revealed by where SFAB personnel spend their time.” Karl stated, it will be very interesting “to see if this mission cycles through those all of the zones, so if it’s a nationwide footprint, or if it’s focused in the Venezuelan border region.”
While that may be valid, wherever this U.S. Army team deploys in Colombia, we can be certain that Venezuela’s rogue leader is sleeping very lightly – and will continue to wonder what may come next.