Since his election in 2002, President Alvaro Uribe has kept the FARC on the defensive, regaining much of the territory the rebels once controlled.FARC ranks are believed to have shrunk from 20,000 a decade ago to as few as 8,000, partly because of incentives offered to get rebel fighters to desert.The rescue brought expressions of joy from the hostages' families and from Colombians on the street who have endured decades of bloody and seemingly endless civil war."The joy of the families is shared by the entire country and by the world that looks on in shock at this crime that continues to be committed in our country," said Olga Gomez, leader of Pais Libre, a group that represents the families of kidnapping victims Pope Benedict XVI was among the several world leaders, including Sarkozy and Bolivian President Evo Morales, who congratulated the families and the Colombian government for the rescue.Most called on the FARC to negotiate a peace accord.A top level field commander, Nelly Avila Moreno, known by the alias Karina, who once controlled FARC drug trafficking in several central states, said after her surrender in May that the FARC was "crumbling" and that she had been out of touch with the command for two years. Those compromised communications may have enabled the Colombian forces to spin the ruse that led to the rescue. military spokespersons, wanting to emphasize the independence of the Colombian military in planning the operation, declined to comment on the rescue. "It was based largely on intelligence they had developed."But another military official acknowledged that the United States had been told of the rescue plan in advance, which allowed U. officials to provide a transport plane and a team of medical personnel."They had given us enough heads-up so we could have the aircraft standing by in the event they went ahead with the mission and it was successful," said the officer.Details were not disclosed Wednesday on how FARC commander "Cesar" was fooled into bringing together the 15 hostages from three locations. "We were aware enough of the planning to be ready to respond with the aircraft and the medical team."At a news conference earlier Wednesday at which the rescue was announced, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said the FARC top command, the seven-member secretariat, had been "penetrated." Colombian military operations in the area, which was near the scene of the FARC's release of six hostages early this year, also led to intelligence that helped in Wednesday's operation.The three American hostages, Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell and Thomas Howes, did not appear in Bogota with the other 12 freed captives.Officials said the three had been flown to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where they arrived late Wednesday.
But the rebels are believed to still hold 700 hostages.Uribe has advocated military rescues of the kidnapped, something opposed by all the families of the abducted, who fear the hostages will be killed in crossfire.