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Gates Pledges Support for Colombian Partnership

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

BOGOTA, Colombia, Oct. 3, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates finished up his second day in Latin America here today pledging continued support for what he called a “strong partnership” with Colombia.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, left, greets Colombian President Dr. Alvaro Uribe and Minister of Defense Dr. Juan Manual Santos at Casa Narino, the Presidential Palace, in Bogota, Colombia, Oct. 3, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Gates met with the country’s president and minister of defense to discuss shared interests and continued cooperation between the United States and Colombia, he said.

”It’s been a productive visit -- an opportunity to discuss our shared security interests and a chance for me to witness undeniable progress in territorial control, human rights protection and democratic security,” the secretary told the press.

Gates said the U.S. and Colombia have enjoyed a long-standing and cooperative defense and security relationship.

”Colombia is one of our most prominent allies. That fact is underscored by our partnership in combating narco-terrorism, curbing transnational crime and strengthening democratic institutions,” Gates said.

Gates said that supporting Colombia enhances regional security, and thereby promotes stability and economic progress.

The defense secretary spent the afternoon getting a look at the top soldiers of the Colombian army and their capabilities. Flanked by Colombia’s minister of defense and the commander of the army, the secretary was treated to a special demonstration by the army’s Lanceros -- the equivalent to the U.S. military’s special forces.

The demonstration featured soldiers rappelling down walls, swooping along ropes “Bat Man” style, rescuing mock hostages, paratroopers jumping from planes and helicopter teams conducting aerial extractions of troops from would-be enemy territory.

Located west of Bogota, the Tolemaida Air Base trains about 22,000 troops at a time and is the largest training installation south of Fort Hood, Texas, said an official speaking on background.

Gates was openly impressed with the military demonstration, and called the progress in Colombia one of the biggest surprises since his return to government service as the defense secretary.

”I think the turn-around in Colombia is one of the great success stories, in terms of establishing greater security, but also professionalizing the military, institutionalizing the rule of law, bringing people accused of wrongdoing to justice,” Gates said.

“Ten years ago Colombia was on its way to becoming a failed state. And it’s far from that today,” he said.

Gates said that more U.S. support is needed to continue to the upward trend in the region.

“Columbia needs the continued support of the United States to consolidate the rule of law, social development, the reinsertion of the demobilized groups, public security and economic development,” the secretary said. “I think the idea is to help them strengthen their own capabilities so they can then do these things on their own.”

Gates said the proposed U.S.-Colombia trade promotion agreement will also help sustain these efforts for the future, and he pledged that “we will work hard to secure passage of this agreement.”

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Robert M. Gates

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