States, Colombia Seek to Reinforce Success
By Jim Garamone
An axiom in
war, business and politics is that you reinforce success. That’s
what officials in Colombia and the United States want to do as
part of the effort to defeat the threat posed by narcoterrorists.
President Alvaro Uribe met with President Bush last week and asked
that the United States lift its congressionally imposed cap on
the number of U.S. service members and contractors in Colombia.
400 U.S. military personnel – mostly special operations
forces – are in the nation, along with another 400 U.S.
contractors. Uribe wants the ceiling raised to 800 and 600, respectively,
and U.S. officials agree. The prohibition against U.S. personnel
engaging in combat would remain.
building on success," said Roger Pardo-Maurer, deputy assistant
defense secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs. "President
Uribe has really done all the right things. The Colombian people
are backing him … (and) his military has an 87 percent approval
rating. They are doing the right things, and this is the time
to make a difference and bring the rebel groups to the negotiating
government and military have taken the offensive against rebel
groups. These groups – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the United
Self-defense Groups of Colombia (AUC) – use tactics indistinguishable
from those of terrorists.
officials estimate the FARC – the largest rebel group –
has roughly 15,000 hard-core adherents, with another 5,000 "sleeper
cells." They estimate the ELN has about 5,000 supporters
and the AUC, about 10,000. All of the groups are allied with drug
traffickers and sell drugs to buy weapons and finance their operations.
Two of the
groups – the ELN and AUC – are negotiating with the
government for an end to their rebellion.
In the past,
U.S. effort was focused on combating the drug traffic. However,
success did not come until a committed leader took the helm –
Uribe – and U.S. policy changed from just eliminating drugs
to addressing the terrorist nature of the threats.
By any measure,
Colombia’s actions have been successful, Pardo-Maurer said. Murders,
massacres, kidnappings and other crimes are down in the country.
Rebels are deserting, and there are far fewer rebel sympathizers.
the caps on U.S. involvement for a reason. In the past, the Colombian
military was accused of corruption, human rights abuses and supporting
paramilitary death squads. The new military has received training
from U.S. Army Special Forces, which included extensive human
rights training. Human rights complaints about the Colombian army
have since dropped precipitously.
DoD is working
closely with Congress on the details about the caps. Congress
is asking excellent questions, Pardo-Maurer said. He said he is
pleased with the bipartisan support the proposal has engendered.
said the additional military and contractor personnel would probably
help the planning and assistance teams set up in Colombia. These
teams are designed to increase the ability of Colombian units
to turn intelligence into operations. "This will help the
Colombians really put the squeeze on the FARC and bring them to
the negotiating table," he said.