COLOMBIA’S military killed the field marshal and number two commander of the country’s main leftist rebel group in bombing raids, authorities said.
The death of Jorge Briceno, 57, is a huge setback for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which has been reeling from a decade of attacks by the US-backed military.
President Juan Manuel Santos called it “the most crushing blow against the FARC in its entire history” – more important than the March 2008 bombing raid across the border with Ecuador that killed FARC foreign minister Raul Reyes or the bloodless rescue in mid-2008 that freed former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three US contractors without firing a shot.
Santos was defence minister at the time of both those government victories. Santos told a news conference in New York at least 20 rebels were killed, including other senior insurgents, in bombing raids that began on Monday night and involved at least 30 warplanes and 27 helicopters. Ground combat ensued on Wednesday.
Briceno belonged to the FARC’s seven-member ruling Secretariat.
The group’s main leader, Alfonso Cano, remains at large and is believed to be in the mountains of central Colombia.
Defence Minister Rodrigo Rivera said the only government death was an explosives-sniffing dog named Sacha.
The hemisphere’s last remaining large rebel army, has been badly weakened over the last decade.
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