U.S. Drug Czar Visits Jungle Outpost 

U.S. Drug Czar Visits Jungle Outpost 
Posted by FoM on February 24, 2000 at 15:51:04 PT
By Jared Kotler, Associated Press
Source: Boston Globe
 Rockets, mortars and machine gun fire lit up a patch of Colombia's southern jungles Thursday as White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey witnessed the opening of a new chapter in the war on drugs. McCaffrey, in Colombia to promote a controversial $1.6 billion anti-narcotics aid package for the Andes, squinted into a green expanse where troops from a new U.S.-trained anti-drug battalion conducted a live-fire exercise. 
As soldiers in foxholes lobbed shells into the trees, a U.S.-donated helicopter slammed a rocket at imaginary guerrilla columns advancing on the remote Amazon outpost. Following the exercise, McCaffrey, a retired general and Vietnam War hero, gave a stirring send-off to some of the soldiers who will soon be at the front lines in the battle to eradicate drugs at their source. ''You are the ones Colombia has asked to step forward. Good luck, troops,'' he said to their enthusiastic applause. Training and equipping new Colombian battalions such as the 950-man unit based at Tres Esquinas, 250 miles south of Bogota, is the centerpiece of Washington's strategy for stemming an explosion of cocaine and heroin production in this Andean nation. More than half of the aid package now before the U.S. Congress would go toward creating two new battalions like the one already up and running, and providing the army and air force with 63 helicopters. Critics say the plan could embroil the United States in a brutal, decades-old civil conflict reminiscent of those fought in Central America during the 1980s. Leftist rebels control vast tracts of southern jungle, financing their insurgency by taxing peasants who grow drug crops and protecting drug traffickers. Human rights groups, meanwhile, charge Washington is allying itself with a military of dubious credentials. They say the Colombian armed forces work in concert with right-wing paramilitary militias who massacre alleged guerrilla sympathizers and are also deeply involved in the drug trade. ''Outside of Washington I can't find anyone that believes the drug war makes any sense. People just laugh at it,'' said Robert White, a former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador who believes the aid package is a thin pretext for fighting the guerrillas and will only inflame Colombia's conflict. The base at Tres Esquinas will be the command post for a major push by the new army battalions into the surrounding jungles where, as one Colombian officer put it, coca ''grows like weeds.'' The military's role will be to secure areas so U.S.-provided crop-dusters can spray the drug crops. The outpost is strategically located on the border of Putumayo and Caqueta, the two Colombian states where roughly 70 percent of the country's coca, the raw material for cocaine, is grown. Out in the surrounding wilderness are an estimated 7,000 members of Colombia's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and as many as 3,000 paramilitary fighters, officials said. Though the two are supposedly divided by ideology, the base's second-in-command, Col. Luis Ricardo, said their grudge in this region is primarily over control of the bustling drug trade. Once operations begin in full, Ricardo said, the battalion expects heavy resistance not just from the armed groups but from an estimated 17,000 peasant families who could mount demonstrations to defend their livelihood. U.S. and Colombian officials are already discussing plans for aiding and resettling as many as 10,000 residents who will would be uprooted by the eradication operations. McCaffrey brushed off questions about whether the stepped-up U.S. training role could lead eventually to a large involvement of American troops in Colombia. ''There are three Americans here. They are experts in intelligence,'' he said. ''There are probably more U.S. reporters.'' The U.S. military presence in Colombia fluctuates between 150 and 200 uniformed personnel on any given day, the U.S. Embassy says, and none are allowed to accompany Colombian soldiers into combat. Despite eradication efforts, cocaine production in Colombia has more than doubled since 1995. The country produces 90 percent of the world's supply and is a growing source of heroin. TRES ESQUINAS, Colombia (AP)Published: February 24, 2000 Copyright 2000 Boston Globe Electronic Publishing, Inc. Related Articles:Rights Group Criticizes Colombian Army Ties the New Drug Lords - Newsweek International
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Comment #2 posted by kaptinemo on February 25, 2000 at 11:06:06 PT
Vengeance? Maybe.
Domestically, it could become a problem. But international political terrorism is generally not the style of the DrugLords. But I have no doubts at all of the 'vengeance' taking place. The vengeance however will probably be a much more personal fashion. The vengeance will be when C-5A's bearing aluminum coffins containing US KIA's arrive from Bogota.
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Comment #1 posted by Liang on February 24, 2000 at 19:34:30 PT:
Warning to America
In the next few months and the coming years, I think we will see increase of violience in the streets of America, fueled by the revenge of Columbia Drug Lords. They probably will blow up White House too. If not, many public landmakrs could be their targets.Clear and Present Danger, a self-fulfilling prophecy.
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