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Myers: U.S. Committed to Full Partnership With Colombia

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BOGOTA, Colombia, Aug. 13, 2003 – "The air of optimism here is palpable you can really feel it," said Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers at a press conference here Aug. 12.

This was Myers' first visit to Colombia since 2000 when he headed U.S. Space Command. He said he was struck by the determination of all the leaders he met.

The chairman met with President Alvaro Uribe, Defense Minister Martha Lucia Ramirez, Foreign Minister Carolina Barca and his counterpart, Gen. Jorge Mora.

Myers attended a number of meetings discussing the Colombian strategy to fight narcoterrorism. "The military has had some great successes and they continue to organize and plan for success," he said.

The senior U.S. military officer said his trip in part was to express U.S. support for President Uribe's efforts to eliminate the threats of terrorism and narcoterrorism in the region.

The Colombian military is taking the offensive against rebel groups that use drug money to carry out operations and to buy weapons. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (or Spanish acronym FARC) is the largest rebel group, with around 15,000 "hard-core" members. The Colombian military has put together a strategic plan to go after the terrorist group. Mora and his staff briefed Myers on the plan and how the United States can continue to help.

"One of the most important things the U.S. military can do is to help the Colombian military with their planning, their use of intelligence and basic training," Myers said. "The one thing we don't have to help the Colombian military with is their courage and determination."

Myers said that even as he spoke, Colombian military personnel were putting their lives on the line to make the country a better and safer place to live. "This is a competent military dedicated to the mission they have before them," he said.

Many leaders in the country are afraid that reports of progress against the narcoterrorists will mean the United States will end support for the actions. "Clearly we've been full partners with the Colombians going back a long way back to the Korean War where Colombians fought side- by-side with U.S. military, to the war on terrorism and our continuing support down here to rid this country of drugs and terrorism," Myers said. "We're committed to that. It's important to the region and the Western Hemisphere. Success here is very important for the United States and we'll be a full partner."

Myers said that even with the United States military being engaged in many areas of the global war on terrorism, the country can and will sustain support to Colombia. He said the training will change as Colombian military needs change. He said the United States can help the Colombians with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance matters and with improving the planning process.

Myers said the strategic work done by the government is very impressive. He said the work in many ways mirrors the work the United States has done since Sept. 11, 2001. For example, the Colombian military has connected intelligence assets to the operational planning cycle. This will allow the Colombian military to move faster and hit leadership targets or perform other high-value "perishable" missions.

Myers asked the other countries in the region to help Colombia as the nation confronts narcoterrorists. Reporters specifically asked Myers about charges that Venezuela is sheltering rebel groups. "Anybody who gives aid and comfort to terrorists is on the wrong side of the fight," he said. "We'll have to continue to develop that intelligence and continue to work with the governments in the region to ensure that doesn't happen."

But Myers was visibly buoyed by the chance to come to Colombia and get a feel for the situation in Bogota. "The one thing you come away with from a visit like this is the absolute determination and dedication of the Colombian government and people to rid this country of terrorism so their families and children and grandchildren can live in peace and prosperity," he said.

After Colombia, Myers planned stops in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and the Dominican Republic before returning to Washington.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageJoint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers answers questions during a Bogota, Colombia, press conference. Myers met with Colombian leaders -- including Gen. Jorge Mora at right -- on matters pertaining to narcoterrorism and Colombia's actions to end it. Photo by Jim Garamone.  
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