- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2002

The Bush administration plans to increase the U.S. military's involvement in training Colombian security forces to fight drug traffickers, but it will keep Americans out of combat, officials said.
The Pentagon and State Department are debating the size and scope of a follow-up to the Clinton administration's "Plan Colombia," which is consuming $1.3 billion in U.S. aid. The new program would be dubbed "Colombia: The Way Ahead" and would earmark up to $1 billion for training Colombian security forces and eradicating the coca crop from which cocaine is processed. The plan could be sent to Congress later this month.
The United States would help establish a second Colombian anti-narcotics brigade and also train local troops in protecting the country's vital and often targeted oil pipelines. Rebels dynamited one pipeline from an Occidental Petroleum-run oil field near the Venezuelan border more than 140 times last year, the Associated Press reported from Santa Isabel, Colombia. The sabotage cost the government and the company $400 million.
"Security is the biggest single constraint to American foreign investment in Colombia," said U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson, who U.S. officials say is urging the State Department to increase military aid and training to the South American country.
The emerging proposal also calls for increased intelligence-sharing with Bogota. This would include intercepted communications and satellite photographs, U.S. officials said.
The new push in the war on drugs comes as some in the Bush administration view Plan Colombia as a failure. They say the policy has not made a dent in drug traffickers' capacity to produce cocaine. Colombia provides 90 percent of the cocaine that reaches U.S. territory.
In fact, U.S. officials said, an upcoming CIA-State Department report will show that Colombia produced a record coca crop last year. The administration reported 336,400 cultivated acres of coca for 2000, up from 303,000 acres in 1999.
Critics in and outside the government contend that more anti-drug money and increased U.S. advisers are not the solution. They say that as long as Colombian President Andres Pastrana follows a policy of negotiating with, instead of fighting, guerrilla armies involved in illegal drugs, the trafficking will continue.
According to a U.S. military officer, "The problems in Colombia are not going to be solved with another brigade or training to protect pipelines. The only way to get at the problem is to target the organizations that target the pipeline and protect the drug labs. The story in Colombia is not what we are doing, but what we are not doing."
In Colombia, the government has ceded chunks of territory and is negotiating with two left-wing insurgent groups whom the State Department lists as terrorist organizations. They are the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). Both are heavily involved in the narcotics trade. The largest right-wing anti-FARC group is the United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia.
Robert Maginnis, vice president for policy at the Family Research Council and a retired Army lieutenant colonel, said that President Bush's war against terrorism presents the right time to change policy and start targeting FARC and ELN. A key tenet of Mr. Bush's global anti-terror campaign is that there is no distinction between states that harbor terrorists and terrorist groups themselves.
"The president has made it very clear," Mr. Maginnis said. "If you harbor terrorists or provide sanctuary, as President Pastrana has done in Colombia for whatever reason, you're as guilty as the terrorists themselves. We haven't been nearly as aggressive as we ought to be down there."
Several U.S. officials say the Colombian military is ready to fight in trying to end a 40-year FARC effort to overthrow the democratic government.
Mr. Maginnis added: "You have to go after FARC. Keep in mind this was a guerrilla organization that was communist that has metamorphised itself into an international terrorist group with white-collar operations that ship drugs into North America and Europe."
U.S. officials say the practice of aerial spraying of coca fields has not met its goals. One problem is that private, contracted pilots are often afraid to fly over territory controlled by well-armed narcotics traffickers.
The Bush administration's plan will rely heavily on Army Special Forces, or Green Berets, attached to the 7th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Sources said there are no plans to have the Green Berets, used extensively in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda network, directly enter Colombia's long-running war against drug cartels.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is said to be skeptical about the idea of getting the U.S. military deeply involved in anti-drug operations.
The new U.S. plan would include the transfer of American military equipment. Earlier this month, Mrs. Patterson handed over 14 Black Hawk helicopters to the Colombian army as part of "Plan Colombia."
"We will continue to work together to liberate Colombia, the region and the hemisphere from narcotics," Mrs. Patterson said at the ceremony at the Tloemaida Army Base. She said U.S. aid last year helped Colombia destroy nearly 60 tons of cocaine.


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