U.S. moves toward counter-insurgency aid to Colombia
Get ready for deeper U.S. military involvement in Colombia following last
week's decision by President Andrés
Pastrana to regain the territory he had somewhat naively ceded to leftist guerrillas as part of a peace effort more
than three years ago.
While U.S. officials say that U.S. troops will not be drawn into combat
in Colombia, the Bush Administration may
soon issue a ''national security directive'' expanding the nature of U.S. military aid to Colombia.
Until now, the Bush Administration largely followed the Clinton policy
of supporting Pastrana's peace talks with the
estimated 17,500 Marxist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and limiting U.S. aid
to anti-narcotics operations.
There are currently 250 U.S. military personnel and 150 civilians in Colombia,
to help the Colombian government
fight the war on drugs. But under current U.S. congressional restrictions, neither U.S. troops nor U.S. weapons can
be used for counter-insurgency efforts.
That is likely to change soon, for 10 major reasons:
One: For the first time, Pastrana has asked Washington for permission to
use U.S. military equipment to fight the
rebels. ''We have asked to use helicopters to help our soldiers combat narco-terrorism . . . and they don't allow it.
That's difficult,'' Pastrana told CNN en Español last week.
Two: The Colombian government last week for the first time declared the
FARC a terrorist organization, rather
than an ''insurgent'' group fighting for social change. This is bound to strengthen the case of those in Washington
who support U.S. aid to help Colombia fight its guerrilla war.
Three: There is growing support within Colombia for U.S. military aid to
fight the rebels. Largely because the
guerrillas engage in widespread kidnappings and murders of civilians, more than 96 percent of Colombians have a
negative image of the rebels, opinion polls show.
Four: Hard-line Colombian presidential candidate Alvaro Uribe Velez is
ahead in the polls for the May 26
presidential elections. If he wins, he is likely to mount public relations campaign to sway the U.S. Congress to
provide massive counter-insurgency aid to Colombia.
Five: In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, the
war on terrorism has become the top U.S.
foreign policy priority. ''The FARC are now part of a larger worldwide political assessment'' in Washington, says
Gabriel Marcella, a professor at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.
Six: The suspension of the peace talks is likely to lead to an escalation
of violence in Colombia, and neither
political party in Washington may want to be accused of being soft on Colombia's terrorists as the November
congressional elections draw near.
Seven: The Bush administration has already begun inching its way toward
helping the Colombian army fight the
rebels, by requesting $98 million in the 2003 budget to help Colombian troops with training and equipment to
protect the 480-mile oil pipeline from Arauca to the Caribbean.
On Friday, the U.S. State Department announced the Bush administration
will increase intelligence-sharing with
Colombia, including data on rebel troops.
Eight: The current U.S. anti-narcotics aid program in Colombia has not
succeeded in dramatically reducing coca
production, as it has in Bolivia and Peru. This will give additional ammunition to those proposing a complete
overhaul of U.S. policy toward Colombia.
Nine: There is growing support in Washington for a ``Phil
ippine strategy'' in Colombia. About 600 U.S. troops are providing training
and giving advice on the battlefield to
Philippines' government forces in the war against the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.
If the Bush administration sends troops halfway around the world to help
train and equip the Philippines' army to
fight terrorists, it could do the same to help a hemispheric neighbor, supporters of this strategy say.
Ten: Growing numbers of Colombia experts -- including former State Department
head of Latin American affairs
Peter Romero -- have come out in recent days in favor of U.S. aid to Colombia's war on terrorism.
''We should make an offer to the Colombians to more broadly assist their
needs,'' Romero said in a telephone
interview. ``It we make that offer contingent on Colombia doing more to fight the [right-wing] paramilitaries, it
will be much easier to get support for it in Washington.''
My conclusion: The Bush administration is likely to ask Congress to change
the rules and offer both
counter-narcotics and anti-guerrilla aid to Colombia.
The only questions are how much, and how soon.