- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2006

The chairman of the House International Relations Committee says the Bush administration is claiming a “premature victory” in the war against Colombian drug traffickers and diverting its focus to the Middle East.

“I am concerned our efforts to fight the scourge of illegal narcotics seem to be adrift in our hemisphere,” said Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican. “After five years of Plan Colombia, we are finally seeing success in our war on drugs.

“Unfortunately, these positive results seem to have lulled the administration into a false sense of security, causing it to claim premature victory in Colombia and turn its attention to the Middle East and elsewhere,” Mr. Hyde said. “By doing this, it is likely to turn a winning hand into a losing one.”

Plan Colombia is a multibillion-dollar anti-drug initiative that includes interdiction efforts and an aerial fumigation program to eradicate coca, the source of cocaine.

Mr. Hyde’s comments are contained in a letter last week to Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican and chairman of the International Relations Western Hemisphere subcommittee. Mr. Burton was the key sponsor of a war on terror appropriations amendment that secured $26.3 million in emergency funds to assist in Colombia’s war against narco-terrorists.

Last month, senior Colombian police and navy officials told The Washington Times that a Bush administration decision to divert money for Colombian drug interdiction and eradication programs to the war on terrorism had opened up the southern U.S. border to a new flood of heroin and cocaine.

Colombia is the source of about 90 percent of the cocaine that ends up each year in the United States, as well as a majority of the heroin.

In the past three years, a senior congressional aide said, homeland security demands in the United States have resulted in a 70 percent reduction in the aircraft available to the Colombian and U.S. navies for interdiction efforts. Many of the surveillance planes were grounded because of wing-structure problems, and 23 aircraft, including spray planes and helicopters, were either shot down by smugglers or crashed, the aide said.

Mr. Hyde said that unless the administration provides new and replacement counterdrug aircraft and equipment, it will allow the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to consolidate its hold on the drug trade and continue to destabilize the nation.

He said it was time for the administration to recommit to “providing our closest ally in South America the right equipment and training to allow them a chance to prevail against the narcoterrorism that also threatens us.

“I hope someone in the administration is listening; our drug czar is clearly not,” he said.

For two years, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has asked the administration for funds to replace spray planes and for assistance in rebuilding his military and police. His requests were not included in the 2006 foreign aid bill and do not appear in the administration’s 2007 request.

In November, the Government Accountability Office questioned the government’s ability to sustain interdiction operations in the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern Pacific Ocean, saying the availability of aircraft and other key assets was declining. It said interdiction flight hours declined from 6,860 in 2000 to 2,940 in 2005.

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