U.S. role in war on rebels limited
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The United States said yesterday it would share
intelligence with Colombia and speed up delivery of military spare parts
for an all-out offensive by the Colombian
government against leftist rebels.
But Bush administration officials ruled out a combat role for U.S. forces and said it would not allow American soldiers in Colombia to provide training, or to
accompany local troops on their missions.
Colombian forces stormed rebel territory yesterday, two days after President Andres Pastrana officially ended the three-year peace process. Three soldiers were
wounded when U.S.-made Black Hawk helicopters came under rebel fire, the military said.
In Washington, the State Department said it was looking for different ways to assist the government in Bogota, although it had not yet decided whether to seek
changes in U.S. law, which restricts the use of U.S. aid to Colombia's campaign against the production and trafficking of drugs.
"Two of the more immediate things we are looking at is to share more information, including intelligence information, with the government of Colombia," State
Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.
"The second one is that the government of Colombia has purchased various spare parts for their equipment that we'll look to see if we can't expedite the delivery
of those things," he said.
The helicopters the United States already supplies are to be used only against drug traffickers, but both Washington and Bogota maintain the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are deeply implicated in the cocaine trade.
The State Department announcement came shortly after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell spoke with Mr. Pastrana by telephone from Air Force One, while en
route to Washington from Asia, where he accompanied President Bush on a six-day tour.
Mr. Powell said the Colombian leader had shown "enormous patience over a long period of time" in trying to bring the guerrillas to the negotiating table.
"And he's been rebuffed," the secretary said. "He finally felt he could go no further and he had a responsibility to the people of Colombia to protect them. We
understand the decision he made. We support him."
Washington has spent more than $1 billion in the past year backing Mr. Pastrana's fight against drug trafficking and the rebels who profit from it. Earlier this
month, the administration said it wanted $98 million to train and equip Colombian soldiers to protect an oil pipeline that has been repeatedly blown up by rebels.
Even if there is expansion of U.S. involvement, Mr. Boucher insisted it would stay "within the parameters of the law."
Asked whether U.S. military action in support of government forces was possible, a spokesman for the National Security Council, Sean McCormack, said: "We
are mindful of the legal constraints on our assistance, which we will respect."
On Thursday, Otto Reich, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said a combat role for U.S. troops is out of the question.
"The Colombian government has not asked for them. In our opinion, they are not necessary," he said in an interview with Telemundo, a U.S.-based
Spanish-language TV network.
•Steve Salisbury in Colombia contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.