February 21, 2002

Bush administration backs Pastrana

WASHINGTON (AP) --The Bush administration supported Colombian
President Andres Pastrana in his decision to crack down on rebels.

"We've always expressed our support for President Pastrana," State Department
spokesman Richard Boucher said Thursday. "We've always said these are decisions
for him to make."

Pastrana canceled peace talks and ordered the bombing of positions controlled by
leftist guerrillas.

Another administration official, asking not to be identified, said no consideration was
being given to using U.S. troops in a combat role.

The official said the administration is reviewing measures it might take to help
Colombia within the limits imposed by the Congress.

U.S. military assistance is generally limited by law to assisting Colombia's
counternarcotics campaign.

Among the options under consideration are enhanced intelligence sharing and a
speedup in the delivery of spare parts for U.S. helicopters used by the Colombian
military in the drug fight.

The administration also may take steps to permit increased aerial spraying of
narcotics fields -- something the Colombians have been seeking.

This could impair the rebels' war-fighting capability because they derive much of
their income from the drug trade.

The deadly attacks by FARC guerrillas since Jan. 20, when they agreed to make the
peace process work, are horrible, a senior U.S. official said.

Also, he cited the hijacking of an airplane Wednesday and the kidnapping of a
Colombian senator. "We can understand President Pastrana's frustration," the official

Steve Lucas, spokesman for U.S. Southern Command, said there are about 250 U.S.
military personnel, 50 civilian employees and 100 civilian military contractors in

Also, State Department employees and contractors, who fly and maintain planes and
helicopters used for drug crop eradication, also are in the South American country.

Congress has restricted U.S. personnel in Colombia to 400 military and 400 civilian.

Lucas said U.S. personnel provide military advice to the ambassador and staff and
tactical advice and training for Colombian anti-narcotics operations.

Though the administration and Congress had expressed interest in broadening the
U.S. military role in Colombia, "We are still operating under the existing guidance
which is U.S. assistance to Colombia is limited to counternarcotics," Lucas said.

The spokesman declined to say where in Colombia most of the U.S. personnel are
based, but said "generally speaking, they are in secure areas -- as secure as things
get in Colombia -- and we constantly address the potential threat to U.S. personnel
and move them accordingly."

 Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.