- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 3, 2002

This is a country at war; a poverty-stricken land controlled by a large, well-financed radical terrorist organization. Over the past decade, 19,000 members of an indigenous terrorist organization and two allied groups have kidnapped 70 Americans and murdered 10 of them in this nation. At least one other infamous international terrorist organization has sent advisers here to teach the locals murder techniques. The state's terrorists have hijacked airliners, kidnapped and killed government officials, and targeted U.S. military personnel for extermination.
Is it Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen or the Philippines? Not a chance. The country in question is Colombia, and the terrorist organization is the FARC the self-described Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Last week, the Colombian government finally began to fight back. Unfortunately, it may not get what it needs most to succeed serious U.S. military assistance.
For 38 years, the Colombian government the Western Hemisphere's second-oldest democracy has been struggling against well-armed, externally supported domestic adversaries. In the 1980s, while Ronald Reagan was trying to prevent Nicaragua's communist government from spreading its Soviet-bloc supported "revolution without frontiers," Marxist-inspired M-19 terrorists murdered the entire Colombian Supreme Court. When the Soviet Union collapsed, so did the M-19.
By the early 1990s, the M-19 had been supplanted by the FARC and the equally deadly National Liberation Army the ELN. Bank robberies, extortion and kidnappings proved insufficient sources of revenue, so they joined the drug trade initially "taxing" and protecting cocoa farmers, and eventually cultivating, producing and distributing drugs themselves.Last year, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the FARC pocketed more than $300 million selling cocaine and heroin
mostly to Americans. In comparison, during that same period, the Taliban made less than $51 million from worldwide opium sales.
The flood of Colombian cocaine and heroin on U.S. streets throughout the 1990s got the attention of the Republican-controlled Congress. In 2000, the House and Senate voted $1.3 billion in military and economic aid to fund "Plan Colombia" an ambitious counternarcotics campaign aimed at stemming the drug flow. But the Clinton administration had other ideas and slow-rolled promised helicopters, weapons, intelligence and training, while pressuring Colombian President Andres Pastrana into the same failed policy it advocated for the Israelis trading "land for peace." Consequentially, the Colombian government ceded more than a third of the country land the size of Switzerland to FARC and ELN control.
During three years of U.S. State Department-lauded "peace talks," thousands of Colombians perished in narco-terrorist violence and more than 55,000 Americans died of drug overdoses. But finally, after last week's indictment of three Irish Republican Army terrorists charged for training FARC bomb-builders, hijacking a civilian airliner and kidnapping a Colombian senator and female presidential candidate, Mr. Pastrana unleashed the Colombian Army against the FARC. And now, his biggest problem may be getting support from the same country that wants the world to stand up against terrorism the United States.
For a change, the problem isn't the White House. In the aftermath of September 11, President Bush authorized providing U.S. intelligence to countries combating terrorism. The new presidential finding lifts some Clinton-era restrictions so the Colombian government can finally receive essential information on the FARC, the ELN and right-wing paramilitary units. And last month, Mr. Bush said, "I applaud the efforts of their president… to bring order to the country, but we are restricted by law, and I intend to adhere to that law."
Unfortunately, "that law" limits U.S. help for Colombia to counternarcotics support and bans Defense Department personnel, contractors and U.S. equipment from supporting a military campaign against the FARC as a terrorist or guerrilla organization.
The law's Clinton-era language barring U.S. help for Colombian military operations against the FARC and the ELN was crafted to placate the political left in Congress when "Plan Colombia" was being debated. Now, the Bush administration's 2003 budget asks Congress for $98 million to help train and equip regular units of the Colombian Army not just those fighting the drug war. That's enough to detonate Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, who claims President Bush has "crossed the line" from supporting strictly counternarcotics training to counterinsurgency support.
To Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, this is a distinction without a difference. He told me on Thursday, "While America is ridding the world of the September 11 terrorists, we cannot forget the terrorists who are waging chemical warfare against us every day." Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, agrees: "We know who is pumping the illegal cocaine, heroin and ecstasy into our country, and we should be going after them. Clearly they are the enemy in Colombia, Afghanistan or elsewhere."
Apparently, Mr. Leahy sees the FARC and the ELN as something other than what they are: terrorist organizations just like al Qaeda except that FARC receives tens of millions of dollars in support from the United States in drug money.
The Colombian military needs and deserves not U.S. troops on the ground, but more U.S. training, weapons and equipment. And members of Congress like Mr. Leahy would do well to remember what President Bush told the world in the aftermath of September 11, "You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists." Whose side are you on?

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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