U.S. to begin training Colombian soldiers
MIAMI -- American troops will train Colombian soldiers and police to help them take control of a region of the country crawling with rebels and paramilitaries, a senior U.S. military officer said.
The training by U.S. special forces is part of a larger American effort to help Colombia battle insurgents who have waged war in the South American country for 38 years.
In the past, U.S. military aid focused on stemming the flow of cocaine and heroin from Colombia and depriving rebels and their paramilitary foes of drug profits.
But the United States now plans to directly help Colombia attack the outlawed groups.
"Our approach to Colombia recognizes that the problem in Colombia is much more than drugs," Army Brig. Gen. Galen Jackman said. "The problem there is basically a crisis of governance, where the Colombians are not able to provide a safe and secure environment."
Jackman laid out details of the new U.S. plan in a rare encounter with journalists at the headquarters of the U.S. Southern Command on Friday. Congress is preparing to provide about $95 million more to train and equip two Colombian army brigades.
As part of the move, U.S. officials are scrapping a presidential directive, imposed by former President Clinton, that permits the United States to share intelligence with Colombia only when it deals with drug trafficking, Jackman said.
Under Presidential Directive 73, if U.S. officials traced a satellite phone call by a rebel leader planning an attack, they would be unable to share the information with the Colombian army to help capture him, even though the rebels are deeply involved in cocaine trafficking.
The Americans could share the phone trace with the Colombians only if it relates to drugs.
That stipulation is expected to be dropped in a new version being written by the Bush administration.
Focus on the enemy
Jackman, the Director of Operations for the U.S. Southern Command, said they needed to treat the rebels and paramilitaries "as they are, which are terrorist organizations ... and we need to help the Colombians deal with those organizations."
Starting in October, U.S. special forces are expected to begin training the Colombian Army's 18th and 5th Brigades in specialized warfare to protect a pipeline that carries oil owned by Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum and hunt down rebels who have attacked it, Jackman said. They will also get U.S. combat helicopters.
"I think these brigades that we're talking about will be very offensively oriented -- that is focused on the enemy as opposed to static defense around the pipeline," Jackman said.
U.S. troops will also train Colombian National Police, Jackman said.
"The idea there is to help secure the pipeline ... secure the region and get some of the social and economic programs going," Jackman said.
The U.S. military trainers will operate in an area where rebels have repeatedly attacked the Colombian army and police.
Jackman said the safety of the U.S. troops is "a concern" but that the Americans will be well protected.