The Miami Herald
Feb. 24, 2002

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.

                      TEN REASONS

                      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.

                      PR CAMPAIGN

                      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.