At a recent press conference, National Security Advisor John Bolton was photographed holding a notepad. Inquisitive people zoomed in on the writing, and saw, “5,000 troops to Colombia”. At that point, the original curiosity disappeared, and every news agency in the world proclaimed that the United States was preparing to invade Venezuela to oust the current president. I kept waiting for someone –anyone- to discuss the statement logically, but so far, I haven’t seen it. Every headline refers to “all options on the table” and the fact that the administration isn’t discussing the note at all.
Up front, I’ll state that I’m not read-on to any planning SOUTHCOM or the DOD is undertaking for Venezuela, but analyzing the available facts, I’m fairly certain what the note indicates.
First, if you haven’t been keeping up with the news, Venezuela is falling apart. It’s experiencing massive protests, and has a president that the United States (and a host of other countries around the globe) states is illegitimate. Second, because of our spat with President Maduro, he has demanded that all of our diplomats leave the country. In turn, we said, “Nope. Not happening. You can’t make us leave.” So where does that leave us?
Militarily effecting change in Venezuela would require significantly greater manpower than 5,000 troops. The thought is ludicrous. We invaded Iraq with nearly 200,000 troops. No, 5,000 isn’t enough to effect regime change, but it IS enough to conduct a forcible entry and create a lodgment inside Venezuela for a Noncombatant Evacuation Operation – or NEO – and that’s what the note most likely indicates. DOD and SOUTHCOM are simply planning for an eventuality that the United States may need to evacuate our embassy and any other AMCITS caught in the crossfire if Venezuela completely falls apart.
Such operations are an inherent task, and have been conducted multiple times over the years. I myself staged in Utapao, Thailand in 1997 because of a coup in Cambodia. Called Operation Bevel Edge, our mission wasn’t to intervene in the regime’s troubles, but to evacuate AMCITS under threat. We never executed.
Given the troubles occurring in Venezuela – and given our complete inability to evacuate anyone from Benghazi, Libya – DOD sees it as only prudent to prepare for such a contingency. You can be damn sure they don’t want a repeat of Benghazi. As for Colombia, a staging place close to the crisis site provides flexibility, allowing, among other things, immediate medical care, contingency planning for unforeseen events, and the processing of evacuees within the footprint of the operational area for orderly flights back to the United States. It’s precisely why Bevel Edge staged in Thailand.
Why won’t anyone just come out and say that? Because it sends a signal that can be read a myriad of different ways – and we don’t want to signal anything. All we want to do is prepare. Announcing that we’re sending 5,000 troops to Colombia because we’re sure that the end is near for Venezuela may start a chain reaction. Other countries may take our planning as fact, and rush to evacuate their own people and create a self-fulfilling prophecy that causes unnecessary chaos. It could also be inadvertently viewed by the Venezuelan government as camouflage for the very thing the press is breathlessly predicting. Either endstate is not something the US wants to project, so the administration is falling back on, “Nothing to see here. Move along. Sorry that picture was taken.”
I have no idea why John Bolton allowed that note to be seen, but one thing is for sure: We aren’t invading Venezuela from Colombia with only 5,000 troops.