Drug War in Jungles Heats Up! 

Drug War in Jungles Heats Up! 
Posted by FoM on August 01, 1999 at 07:39:46 PT
By Jared Kotler, Associated Press
Source: Cleveland Live
TRES ESQUINAS MILITARY BASE, Colombia - In dense Amazonian jungles and on the muddy rivers that swirl past this outpost in the war on drugs, the action is about to get hot.
Before year's end, a new U.S.-trained Colombian army battalion will be deployed into a wilderness teeming with exotic birds and leftist rebels. Its mission: to sever the lucrative ties between the guerrillas and the cocaine trade.Colombian and U.S. officials say an aggressive push into this stronghold belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia is needed to counter a doubling in the coca acreage since 1996 in the world's No. 1 cocaine-producing nation.But critics warn that the United States is getting involved in a civil war reminiscent of the wars that ravaged Central America, only this time in the name of drug interdiction.Underscoring those dangers, five U.S. soldiers and two Colombian air force officers were killed when a U.S. army spy plane crashed into a mountain a week ago while on a counter-narcotics mission over rebel territory. The U.S. soldiers were identified yesterday as: Capt. Jose A. Santiago; Capt. Jennifer J. Odom; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Thomas G. Moore; Pfc. T. Bruce Cluff; and Pfc. Ray E. Krueger.Their ages and hometowns were not released. The crew was assigned to the 204th Military Intelligence Battalion.Although the crash was by all appearances an accident, some saw it as an ominous sign."It's a clear marker along the way to the growing involvement of the United States in a very dirty war," said Carlos Salinas, a Latin America specialist with Amnesty International. More than 30,000 Colombians have been killed in 35 years of fighting, most of them civilians in massacres by rebels, rival right-wing paramilitary forces or the army.The 1,000-man counter-narcotics battalion, being trained by U.S. Special Forces troops at the Tolemaida army base, is an example of U.S. efforts to destroy illegal drugs at their source.Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the Clinton Administration's top anti-narcotics official, visited the base Tuesday while on a tour to discuss and promote a $1 billion increase in anti-narcotics aid for the Andes.Even counting the new anti-drug battalion, the U.S. military's role in Colombia remains modest. There are no troops in combat and only about 200 U.S. military personnel in the country at a time. The bulk of Washington's $300 million aid program this year is going to the police.McCaffrey watched Colombian soldiers with war-painted faces rappel down walls, take target practice and act out dramas designed to teach soldiers to respect human rights. In one of the play-acting exercises, soldiers kick and threaten to shoot surrendering rebels, only to be stopped by fellow troops.McCaffrey said soldiers learned valuable lessons about what they would likely observe in the heat of combat.Set to be deployed in December, the new battalion will add heavily-armed ground forces to police raids on drug laboratories and airstrips and fumigation runs over illegal drug plantations.Although the battalion's purpose is ostensibly to fight drugs, Colombia's besieged military sees it as a tool for regaining the upper hand against the surging rebels.The rebels "are investing in arms, in explosives, in sophisticated communications equipment, in intelligence," said Armed Forces chief Gen. Fernando Tapias. The only way to stop them "is to cut off their source of funding."The battalion will work largely out of the Tres Esquinas military base, an installation the army says is surrounded by eight rebel units with nearly 2,000 fighters.Perched above the Orteguaza River, the base borders Caqueta and Putumayo, the two southern states which have seen the greatest increase in the production of coca, the plant used to make cocaine.Saturday, July 31, 19991999 Associated Press. 
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Comment #1 posted by FoM on August 01, 1999 at 15:50:47 PT:
US Stumbling Deeper Into Conflict Of Drugs
US Stumbling Deeper Into Conflict Of Drugs In Colombia Jim LobeAugust 1st 1999WASHINGTON: The United States appeared on Thursday to be stumbling ever deeper into the multi-faceted conflict of drugs, insurgency and banditry that has made Colombia the most violent country in Latin America. The presence in Bogota of Washington's drug czar, retired General Barry McCaffrey and the recovery on Wednesday of the remains of four of five US soldiers whose reconnaissance plane crashed into a mountainside near the Ecuador border last week, highlighted the growing US role in Colombia. Colombia, the biggest source of cocaine and a growing source of heroin for the US market, already is the third biggest recipient of US military assistance, after Israel and Egypt. About 200 US military personnel are stationed in Colombia for training, reconnaissance, intelligence and crop-eradication operations. The administration of President Bill Clinton currently is considering requests that would more than double the amount of military aid to Colombia and deepen Washington's involvement in the country's 30-year-old civil conflict. But the administration remains deeply split about what it should do in the Andean nation. It has supported the year-long effort by President Andres Pastrana to initiate a peace process with the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). As recently as last week, Clinton reiterated his support for Pastrana, noting that "until the civil discord in Colombia is brought to an end, it is going to be much harder for us to restrain the activities of the narcotraffickers there." Political analysts, however, now believe this policy has been badly - perhaps fatally - weakened by recent events and that officials like McCaffrey and others at the Pentagon, who favour increased military aid and training for Colombia's army, are winning the internal battle almost by default. "What's happening is that people with views like his are filling the policy vacuum," says Michael Shifter, a Colombia expert at the Inter-American Dialogue (IAD) think tank. "The people who want more military aid are in the driver's seat now." They still face opposition from some elements in the National Security Council and the State Department who worry that increasing military aid will almost certainly escalate the violence in Colombia, while destroying the flickering hopes for peace talks without substantially reducing the drug trade. "A big military aid package will add fuel to the fire," according to Winifred Tate, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, a non-governmental human-rights group. Despite a steady rise in counter-narcotics aid over the past decade, drug production in Colombia actually has increased, she says. "Even some people in the US military admit that defeating FARC (which Washington accuses of drug-trafficking) will not impact on the drug trade." For supporters of the peace process, the last few weeks have brought one disappointment after another. A major offensive by FARC rebels, which brought fighting to within 40 kms of Bogota, underlined both the weakness of the army and the continuing aggressiveness of the insurgents - despite their year-old commitment to engage in negotiations. The indefinite postponement of those negotiations, just hours before they were set to begin, also highlighted the weakness of the peace process itself, according to analysts. At the same time, the visit here of Colombia's defence minister Luis Ramirez and armed forces chief-of-staff Gen. Fernando Tapias, provided a platform for the Colombians to press for some 500 million dollars in new US military aid. Republican lawmakers, who enjoy a majority in Congress, quickly endorsed their request. Not to be outdone, McCaffrey submitted his own request for one billion dollars in additional emergency aid to fight drug- trafficking in the Americas next year, 600 million dollars of which would be earmarked for Colombia. Bogota already is receiving almost 300 million dollars in anti- drug aid from the United States this year - three times what it received in 1998. Most of the money goes to the national police but about 40 million dollars is earmarked for the Colombian military, subject to assurances that none of it goes to army units accused of serious human rights abuses or to right-wing paramilitaries, who are responsible for the worst violence in Colombia today. The fundamental problem is that Washington cannot decide what its top priority is in Colombia and how aid to the army, whose main goal is to defeat the insurgency, relates to accomplishing that objective. "Is it, in fact, the purpose of US policy in Colombia to defeat the guerrillas?" the IAD's Shifter asked in a column printed in the Los Angeles Times. "Is it to reduce drug production or, taking a page from the US role in El Salvador in the 1980s, is it to 'level the playing field' - which would enhance the Colombian government's leverage to negotiate peace with the insurgents?" The answer has been "all of the above," Shifter says, because McCaffrey, the Pentagon and influential Republican lawmakers see the insurgents - who tax drug production in areas under their control - as the enemy in the drug war. That assessment, however, blurs the distinctions between the anti-drug fight and a counter-insurgency war despite the fact t that, while inter-related, the two are quite distinct.-Dawn/Inter Press Service.  The DAWN Group of Newspapers, 1999 
[ Post Comment ]

Post Comment

Name: Optional Password: 
Comment: [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]
Link URL: 
Link Title: