Colombia has used U.S. drones since 2006 for surveillance of leftist guerrillas and drug traffickers, revealed a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.
The secret 2006 cable by William Wood, then U.S. ambassador in Bogota, described the use of drones by the Colombian military in filming the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the cocaine trade.
Wood said a batch of drones that arrived in Colombia in July 2006 gave the Colombian military a “real-time, bird’s eye” view of its assaults on insurgents and drug trafficking on rivers.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are a low-tech, low-cost, and low-risk but
potentially high-impact new addition to USG-GOC intelligence cooperation
in support of counterterror and counterdrug efforts. Since their arrival
in July, a test package of UAVs has provided valuable, real-time aerial
video reconnaissance and surveillance to live COLMIL operations. The UAV
program's principal priorities are to support U.S. hostage rescue efforts
and to assist COLMIL pursuit of FARC leaders, but it promises to be
equally useful for combat against terrorists and in riverine drug
interdiction. As with all intelligence capabilities, what matters most is
its aggressive application by the COLMIL in offensive action.
The cable said the drones were the ScanEagle, a small, low-cost unmanned aircraft that needs no runway because it is launched by a hydraulic catapult system.
Made by Boeing, the ScanEagle was first deployed in Iraq in 2005 for intelligence gathering. They have also been used in Afghanistan and by the U.S. Navy in counter-piracy operations.
According to U.S. newspaper The Washington Post, it was not clear from the cable whether the drones were flown by U.S. military forces in Colombia or given to the Colombian armed forces as part of a multibillion-dollar military aid program.