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US Special Forces Trainer: Why I Support the Guerrillas

Stan Goff
Date Published: 
May 24, 2003

from ANNCOL News

In a new interview a retired US Special Forces sergeant who trained the Colombian military, explains why he now supports the armed struggle of the FARC-EP guerrillas in Colombia.

In a recent in-depth interview Stan Goff, a now retired US Special Forces Master Sergeant who has served the US military in at least eight combat zones including Vietnam, El Salvador, Grenada and Haiti, explains that "the armed struggle in Colombia is the only option at this point" and says that he "supports it unequivocally." Goff, who taught counter-insurgency tactics to the Colombian army, goes on to say, "If I were Colombian, I would be a member of the FARC-EP." ANNCOL is pleased to provide a copy of the interview with Goff, who now lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

What is your professional background?

I began my military career January 1970 as a simple 'buck' private. I enlisted for the infantry and for the 'airborne', that is, the paratroopers. I went to Vietnam, where I carried an M-60 machine gun in a rifle squad with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. I was very fortunate in not being wounded there, and in fact, in eight conflict areas, I was never shot or blown up. The only time I've ever been shot was in Hot Springs, Arkansas in a drunken altercation in 1991. After Vietnam, and after recovering from a case of drug-resistant malaria, I was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. I separated from active duty there, and reverted to reserve status for three years, while I went to college and generally debauched myself until I married my first wife.

By 1977, I had had enough of living with her 24-7 and of poverty, so I enlisted again, this time as a Private First Class. I worked for two years as a Cavalry Scout in the 4th Infantry, and discovered that I had a pathological aversion to diesel fumes and motor pools, so I volunteered for Ranger School and assignment to the Ranger Battalions. My first Ranger assignment was 2nd Ranger Battalion in Fort Lewis, Washington. I was a Sergeant by then, and was promoted to Staff Sergeant there. I worked as a team leader, a squad leader, and for a short time as a platoon sergeant.

My next assignment, having developed an affinity for small unit tactics, was as an instructor at the Jungle Operations Training Center in Fort Sherman, Panama, where I worked for a year, before I volunteered for Delta Force selection and assessment. I was assessed and selected, and worked as both an assaulter and a sniper with Delta for almost four years. While I was there I worked in South Korea as an advisor, and worked on classified operations in Guatemala and El Salvador, where I began to improve my Spanish, and where I was exposed to the inner workings of US Embassies, as well as to our 'allies' in these countries. I also participated in the colossal Special Operations blunder known as the Grenada invasion. I was promoted there, as well, to Sergeant First Class. I went from Delta to West Point, where I taught military science, developed and instructed the Ranger Orientation Program, and ran the Bayonet Assault Committee for Cadet Basic Training. Then I left the service again for over a year and a half and went to work training SWAT teams for the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons facilities in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. I re-entered service with a loss of one rank, again a Staff Sergeant, and became a platoon sergeant with 1st Ranger Battalion at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia. I only stayed there a year, then applied for Special Forces training, was accepted, and was assigned, because I had qualified as a Spanish-speaker, to 7th Special Forces Group. While with 7th Group, I advised and assisted foreign national troops in Honduras, Venezuela, Colombia, and Peru. I left 7th Group to work as a Special Operations medical sergeant attached to the 75th Ranger Regiment, where I was attached to the ill-fated Task Force Ranger that was defeated by the Somali National Alliance in October 1993. I was subsequently assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, with responsibilities in the Caribbean, and I participated in the invasion of Haiti, Operation Restore Democracy, in 1994. I later began formally documenting my experience in Haiti, which would eventually become a book, 'Hideous Dream', published by Soft Skull Press. I retired from active duty on February 1st, 1996.

How long did you spend in Latin America as a military trainer for the US?

I didn't only work as a trainer. I worked as an advisor, which is a different capacity, and I participated in some operations, which are still highly classified and could land me in jail if I described them in any detail. Then I worked there at the Jungle School for over a year, living in Panama. As I said, my first total-immersion experience in Latin America, aside from merely attending the Jungle Operations Training Course while assigned to 2nd Rangers, was in Guatemala. I was there for several months in 1983, during the coup, actually, staged by General Mejia and others against General Rios Montt, who himself had come to power in a coup a couple of years earlier against General Lucas-Garcia. In 1985, I was in El Salvador, on a similar and classified mission. I arrived days after the killing of the four Marines at Zona Rosa, and was in country when President Duarte's daughter, Inez, was kidnapped and ransomed for the release of a number of guerrillas. As I said, I also participated in the Grenada invasion. When I was with 7th Group, I conducted training of the Peruvian Special Forces for a couple of months. Also Venezuelans, but that was immediately following Chavez' attempted coup, so we partied at Cumana during Carnaval more than we worked, I'm afraid. In 1992 I worked with Colombian Special Forces in Tolemaida Air Base, near Melgar.

How long did you spend in Colombia as a military trainer for the US?

I worked for two months in Colombia, but our work there was part of a phased process of training to overcome some very serous deficiencies in the Colombian military's methods. There were teams that had preceded us, some that followed on and some in country with us who conducted parallel training.

What kind of training did you impart?

You see this is the interesting question isn't it? You were told, and the American public was being told, if they were told anything at all, that this was counter-narcotics training. The training I conducted was anything but that. It was pretty much updated Vietnam-style counter-insurgency doctrine. We were advised that this is what we would do, and we were further advised to REFER to it as counter-narcotics training, should anyone ask. It was extremely clear to us that the counter-narcotics thing was an official cover story. The only thing we talked with the actual leaders of the training units about was the guerrillas.

Can counter-drug training be used for counter-insurgency, and what, if any, are the main differences?

The more instructive question might be can counter-insurgency training be used for counter-drug training. The answer is, it depends. Certainly there are some generic skills, shooting, navigating overland, planning and coordination that apply to any kind of operation that has a quasi-military character. But not only did we not train counter-drug specific tasks, we weren't qualified to do so. This is the domain of police agencies. What official spokespersons will say, of course, is that the guerrillas ARE the narcotics traffickers. Therefore, the counter-insurgency doctrine is necessary to get to these narco-guerrillas'.

The problem with that story in Colombia is that guerrilla revenues from taxing coca were miniscule compared to the revenues from actual trafficking by army officers and paramilitaries. Not only did the US government not put any pressure on this aspect of the drug trade, the Department of Defence and the CIA assisted the army and paramilitaries in integrating their staffs in 1991, which effectively means that the paramilitaries are an actual, if unacknowledged, component of the Colombian armed forces. Where is the logic in attacking the guerrillas, whose hypothetical subtraction from the drug production and trafficking would not change the volume of production or trafficking one iota? They simply levied a tax between production and process. And the peasants who produce the leaf, well they are making a little money, but the profit hikes from processing to distribution go up exponentially, especially when they get to the United States. Unfortunately, Americans are not trained to ask these simple kinds of questions, and they are not trained to employ logic in their thought processes, and so they never ask these questions. Our society is arguably the most indoctrinated in the world, and the most attached to official pronouncements that amount to denial of reality.

What role, if any, does the US military play in defending the interests of US capital in Colombia?

A huge role, but it's not as simple as that. Certainly, US investment in Colombia is a factor.

What do you think drives US foreign policy in Colombia today?

This is where I don't believe it's a simple linear equation. US-based profit equals US military assistance in Colombia. That's over-simplifying, and we look for simple answers, even progressives look for simple answers, too much. It's intellectual laziness. Immediate investment in Colombia, while substantial, cannot justify the deep level of military intervention to which the US oligarchy has committed. There are geopolitical dynamics that place Colombia in the center of a storm, and that storm is the beginning of a collapse of US imperialism. I don't want to sound like Cassandra, at least not to give the impression that this collapse will be sudden and that it will appear apocalyptically in the very immediate future, though I think it's nearer than people realize. We have to put time into perspective here, and realize that a decade in an historical process is a mere instant. There was a profits crisis that impacted US capital as early as 1970, and the response that salvaged US hegemony, while complex, involved the abandonment of fixed currency exchange rates and the gold standard. It involved a strategic-monetary alliance with some of the Gulf oil states, and it involved a restructured system of imperial enforcement that traded a preponderance of gunboat diplomacy and covert operations for compliant technical 'democracies' directed in their actions through debt peonage. We call it neoliberalism now. It was essentially a successful attempt to wiggle free from the inevitable consequences of global capitalism, and now that inevitability has caught up with it. One can stay on the earth and defy the law of gravity, but eventually the law of gravity will win out. A society can be based on private property and profit and defy the tendency of the rate of profit to fall for some time, defy the relation between rates of profit and the organic composition of capital, but eventually those laws will win out. Without going into details, which are too numerous to count, we can look at the multiplication of crises for imperialism broadly, and we see that resistance to neoliberalism, which has been a catastrophe for the world's masses, is increasing, even as the imperial ruling class fights ever more violently to maintain control. It's like one of those Chinese finger traps. The harder you pull against it the tighter it gets. We can look at the massive human die-off in Russia and Africa, at the Islamist reaction in the Muslim crescent, the Asian economic meltdown, the collapse of Argentina, and soon enough Brazil, the synchronicity of a worldwide recession, and the decimation of the public sector in the US, and even if we don't totally understand it, it is clear that these are symptoms of a terrible disease. The Bush administration, that aspires to become fascists, wants to conduct a radical restructuring of the whole global political architecture, and the linchpin of their strategy is military domination of the world's diminishing energy supplies. But they also have to retain control of their economic colonies, because if they can't continue to pump capital out of these subordinate nations, their native working class will suffer an abrupt crisis - which translates directly into a political crisis at home. So Colombia is not just a nation, it is part of a region. And Colombia is not just an oil producing nation, it is an oil producing nation with an active and successful anti-imperialist armed struggle, adjacent to a rebellious oil producing state, Venezuela, that has made overtures to Cuba, and threatens US hegemony in an economically essential region.

What solutions would you propose for ending the violence in Colombia?

I don't. I believe the armed struggle there is the only option at this point, and I support it unequivocally. If I were Colombian, I would be a member of the FARC-EP. The people there are not facing some simple moral choice between violence and no violence. If the guerrillas stood down tomorrow, the consequences for the peasants now partially under their protection would be horrendous. We've seen the face of the army and paramilitaries many times. The people in the countryside are not facing a choice between violence and peace, but between self-defense or annihilation. My proposal for an end to violence would be the end of all military aid to the Colombian government, then the Colombian people, by however painful a process, might move toward some form of self-determination. The guerrillas and other progressive forces, who have been subjected to merciless violence over the years in Colombia, have already shown a willingness to negotiate. It is the Colombian government and its paramilitary allies who have never bargained in good faith. Their trump card has always been an American military aid bailout. Take away that aid, and they will come to the table because they are quite simply incapable of defeating the guerrillas in the field. The guerrillas are not making unreasonable demands. In fact, they are quite sensible. But their demands include handing the nation back over to its people, and out of the hands of transnational capital.

News Agency New Colombia Associated member of FELAP - Latin American Federation of Journalists