U.S. may up ante in Colombia
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The Bush administration has drafted plans to
expand its military role in Colombia from counterdrug training to anti-terrorism
The policy shift, which comes in the form of proposed legislation, could require as many as 100 additional American troops to be sent into the civil war-torn South
Colombia is now engaged in a fight for its democratic survival against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a well-funded, left-wing guerrilla
Colombian President Andres Pastrana's decision last month to go to war against the FARC after three years of fruitless peace talks prompted administration
policy-makers to look for ways to offer help beyond counternarcotics missions. U.S. law and a Clinton administration directive limit aid to anti-drug efforts only.
A draft plan shows the administration will ask Congress to describe counternarcotics activities as including anti-terrorism and other threats to Colombian security.
An official said that as of yesterday the White House had not approved the final language.
In practice, however, the terms are a "distinction without a difference," said a senior administration official, because the FARC is also a U.S.-designated terrorist
group and is deeply involved in the production and shipment of cocaine and heroin.
The White House could submit its new Colombia plan to Congress as early as this week and fund the missions through a current-year emergency budget bill.
The plan will have two main components:
•Begin using Army Special Forces (Green Berets) and other personnel to train the Colombian military in anti-terror tactics, in the same way soldiers are training
the Philippines army to engage the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf. This would require an increase in U.S. troop presence by as many as 100. The administration would
maintain a ban on American troops directly participating in combat.
•Allow an existing Colombian anti-narcotics brigade, financed and trained by the United States, to get involved in directly fighting the FARC.
The administration already has asked Congress for $98 million to set up a new brigade that would protect some of Colombia's vital infrastructure, such as oil
pipelines and power lines, that are a favorite target of the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN), a much smaller guerrilla group.
Some policy-makers would also like to set up a third brigade strictly for anti-terror operations.
Current policy limits the number of military trainers in Colombia to 400. There are no plans to ask for a higher limit, officials said. There are 250 American troops
in Colombia, 50 Defense Department civilians and 100 contractors, some of whom operate aircraft that spray herbicide on Colombian coca fields.
One U.S. official said the administration will seek to sell the package as, "This is the Colombian war on terrorism. This is not the next phase in the fight against
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer uttered that policy during Tuesday's press briefing. "The situation with the FARC involved a group that is listed by the
State Department as a terrorist group," he said. "I don't think it's fair to say that FARC has global reach."
That approach has disappointed some on Capitol Hill. They view the FARC as qualifying as an enemy under President Bush's declared war on terrorist groups
with "global reach."
"ELN and the FARC in the past 10 years have kidnapped 50 Americans and killed 10 of them," said a House aide. "This is a national security threat right in our
The staffer said Colombian-produced heroin and cocaine "have probably taken more lives every year than [Osama] bin Laden took on September 11. It's global
reach of the vast magnitude that is taking American lives."
Also, the Colombian military reports that Basque and Irish terrorists, along with Cuban and Iranian representatives, have operated in a Switzerland-size safe zone
the FARC controlled in Colombia until Mr. Pastrana ended peace talks.
The staffer said that for the new Colombia policy to be effective it must include helicopter transports that can take troops to the FARC's mountain encampments.
"Colombia is bigger than Kansas and Texas combined," the aide said. "There is only one fundamental way to fight: it's mobility. You have to be able to move in
the Andes where the guerrillas operate and the only way you do this is helicopters."
A Clinton directive, Presidential Decision Directive 73, and appropriations bill language, limit U.S. military training to counter-narcotics.
The administration is so scrupulous about following the law that U.S. Southern Command, based in Miami, is prevented from sharing with Colombia's government
certain intelligence on FARC locations and operations. Those limits would change under the new Bush policy.
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