Pace, Colombian Leaders Address Drug Trafficking, Narcoterrorism
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
BOGOTA, Colombia, Jan. 19, 2007 The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff began a two-day visit here late yesterday to meet with Colombian military and defense leaders to discuss how the U.S. and Colombia can step up their cooperation to better confront drug trafficking and terrorism.
Pace had just returned earlier yesterday from another whirlwind visit -- to Afghanistan.
As he met here yesterday with Gen. Freddy Padilla, commander of Colombia’s armed forces, and other military leaders, as well as Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, Pace praised Colombia’s progress in improving its military so it can better fight narcotrafficking.
Colombia’s drug trade represents a double-edged sword. Colombia produces almost 90 percent of the cocaine and almost half of the heroin consumed in the United States, embassy officials here explained.
Meanwhile, profits from the narcotics industry provide funding for terrorists, left-wing guerillas, paramilitary self-defense forces and drug cartels. Incidents of kidnapping and terrorism here are down. But since 1992, State Department officials report, Colombia’s narcoterrorists have kidnapped more than 50 Americans and killed at least 10.
The Colombian government, with help from the U.S., is making strides in confronting narcoterrorists, primarily the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC; the National Liberation Army, or ELN; and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC.
U.S. military support for Colombia, previously focused on combating drugs, has expanded to helping the Colombian military confront the country’s rebel insurgency, officials said.
U.S. Special Forces troops here provide Colombian forces military training ranging from refresher training in skills such as reconnaissance, life-saving and air-assault operations, to human-rights training, Alberto Rodriguez, an embassy spokesman, told American Forces Press Service.
Meanwhile, other U.S. troops here are training their Colombian counterparts to conduct critical support missions that keep the operational troops in the fight, including logistics and helicopter repair and maintenance, he said.
At the same time, U.S. forces are helping the Colombians professionalize their noncommissioned officer corps and establish an equivalent to the U.S. warrant officer system, Rodriguez said. “The ultimate goal is that Colombia will have a more professional military that is able to conduct operations and sustain itself,” he said.
The United States provides the Colombians other assistance, including providing military equipment to the Colombian military and police through the military assistance program, foreign military sales and the international narcotics control program.
These efforts are demonstrating success. The Colombian military, once plagued with corruption and accused of human rights abuses and supporting paramilitary death squads, has become a professional force that is yielding results.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s Plan Consolidation -- formerly known as Plan Colombia -- is making progress in combating narcoterrrorists, ensuring stability, and providing a safe and prosperous climate for its citizens, officials said.
On Jan. 17, Colombian authorities reported that they had unearthed more than $54 million in cash and gold bars in four houses in what they described as the country’s largest haul of illicit drug money. Santos told reporters the stash had been hoarded by Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia, one of the country’s most-wanted drug traffickers.
“This is a positive step toward having a Colombia without rebel organizations, without paramilitaries, without drug traffickers or corruption,” Santos told reporters.