DoD Assists Anti-Drug Efforts in Colombia, Afghanistan

By Gerry J. Gilmore

Mindful that terrorist groups use the drug trade to fund operations, the Defense Department is helping local governments fight narco-trafficking in Colombia and Afghanistan, senior U.S. officials noted on Capitol Hill April 2.

"Global and regional terrorists threatening United States interests can finance their activities with the proceeds from narcotics trafficking," Thomas W. O’Connell, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict, said in prepared remarks for the Senate’s Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee.

"Terrorists groups such as the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in Colombia, al Qaeda in Afghanistan and (other) groups around the world," O’Connell said, "partially finance key operations with drug money."

Consequently, O’Connell said, DoD, the State Department and other U.S. agencies "seek to systematically dismantle drug trafficking networks, both to halt the flow of drugs into the United States and to bolster the broader war on terrorism."

Cocaine, he noted, "is the primary drug threat in the United States due to its high demand, availability and expanding distribution to new markets, high rate of overdose and its relation to violence." That cocaine, he added, comes from South American coca plants grown in Colombia, as well as in Peru and Bolivia.

That’s why, O’Connell continued, the United States is providing military training, helicopters and other assistance to support Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s crackdown on local anti-government groups.

The FARC; the National Liberation Army, or ELN; and the United Self-Defense Forces, or AUC, are "all named on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations," Army Brig. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, U.S. Southern Command’s operations director, told the subcommittee in his prepared remarks.

FARC, ELN and AUC, Mixon added, "appear to have jettisoned ideology in favor of terrorist methods and narco-trafficking."

Colombia is reaching "the decisive point" in its struggle against narco- terrorists, Mixon said, noting the country is making "steady progress toward establishing security and stability."

Mixon pointed out that Colombian troops recently caught FARC finance and operations chief Nayibe Rojas Valdarrama. Her capture, he said, "has led to numerous other related arrests and has degraded the FARC’s ability to conduct narco-trafficking."

The United States, Great Britain and the Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai "are beginning to take action against the narcotics trade" in Afghanistan, Navy Rear Adm. Bruce W. Clingan, U.S. Central Command’s deputy operations director, said in his prepared testimony.

Taliban remnants, al Qaeda operatives and other terrorists and criminals obtain money from the Afghan poppy crop used in the making of opium and heroin "to oppose the central government and undermine the security and stability of Afghanistan," he told the subcommittee.

In targeting the Afghan poppy crop, Clingan said, it is important "to provide alternatives to the opium growers if we are to be ultimately successful in eliminating narcotics proliferation in Afghanistan and the region."

In the short term, he said, "we will focus our efforts on direct assistance to the Afghan government that establishes a more effective counternarcotics capability." Such assistance, he noted, would include providing equipment and other support used to monitor drug smuggling routes and interdict drug traffickers.

Helping the Karzai government fight narco-traffickers is important, Clingan emphasized, since "the DoD counternarcotics program in Afghanistan is a key element of our campaign against terrorism."