February 27, 2002

U.S. considers options to assist Colombia

From Major Garrett
CNN Washington Bureau

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (CNN) --President Bush vowed Wednesday to
follow legal restrictions limiting U.S. activity in Colombia to military training
and anti-drug police forces.

But congressional sources told CNN they expect the Bush administration to seek
broader authority to allow U.S. military personnel to assist Colombia's army, as the
crisis intensifies in the government's efforts to defeat Marxist guerrillas.

"We're providing advice to the Colombian government as to drug eradication, and we
need to keep it that way," Bush said during a stop in Charlotte, North Carolina,
where he attended a fund-raiser for GOP Senate candidate Elizabeth Dole.

"If the Colombian government decides to take military action against the FARC,
which they ... continue to do, that is their business to do so. I applaud the efforts of
the president, by the way, to try to bring order to the country. But we are restricted
by law and I intend to adhere to the law," Bush said.

Bush made his comments after a Tuesday meeting at the White House where the
president's top military and diplomatic advisers discussed the crisis in Colombia and
ways the administration might assist Colombian President Andres Pastrana.

A senior administration official said National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice,
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed
future U.S. actions in Colombia.

Among the issues discussed were current military assistance in Colombia and the
possibility of expanding the U.S. military presence there as the Pastrana government
attempts to suppress the Marxist guerrillas of the Armed Revolutionary Forces of
Colombia (FARC).

The senior official said the White House does not rule out seeking new latitude from
Congress to step up military aid and assistance to Colombia.

"We want to be helpful to Pastrana," the official said. "The guerrillas there are not

Under Plan Colombia, the U.S. government has provided $1.3 billion to assist in drug
eradication. Part of the package includes 14 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters,
refurbishing 30 UH-1H helicopters and support for 15 UH-1N helicopters for the
Colombian military. Fourteen helicopters have been provided to the Colombian
national police force.

Colombia's pursuit of drug trafficking has frequently brought the Colombian police
and military in direct conflict with the FARC and the Army of National Liberation
(ELN), another Marxist guerrilla group. According to Colombian and U.S.
government reports, both groups use drug profits to finance their activities.

FARC and ELN are routinely implicated in drug trafficking, kidnappings and
anti-government guerrilla violence. Pastrana recently ended nearly four years of
peace talks with FARC after a senator was kidnapped. Violence between the
guerrillas and government forces has risen sharply.

U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, has been a strong advocate of aid to
Colombia, as have many conservative Republicans in the House and Senate. But
Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, have placed tight
restrictions on U.S. aid, limiting it to training and advising Colombian forces.

Congress also requires tough monitoring of right-wing paramilitary forces, which
human rights groups have accused of waging widespread violence against civilians.