Pubdate: Fri, 04 Oct 2002
Source: Pueblo Chieftain (CO)
Copyright: 2002 The Star-Journal Publishing Corp.
Author: Andrew Selsky  & Susannah A. Nesmith, Associated Press


BOGOTA, Colombia - U.S. special forces will begin training a new Colombian 
army commando unit this month to attack outlawed armed groups, U.S. 
officials said Thursday.

The officials, speaking on condition they not be further identified, told 
journalists the Colombia soldiers would be trained at an army base near the 
capital and would then form a new special forces commando battalion.

"It's similar to commando battalions in different armies around the world 
that do direct action raids," one of the officials said.

Critics of U.S. military assistance to Colombia have warned Washington of 
mission creep, in which traditional counternarcotics assistance evolves 
into broader military aid - with the United States eventually being sucked 
directly into a 38-year civil war.

The U.S. officials insisted that the training of the new commando battalion 
is part of the war on drugs, known as Plan Colombia. They said approval 
from U.S. Congress for the training of the commando battalion was not needed.

"They will be focused on counternarcotics operations and narcoterrorist 
organizations," one of the officials said at the briefing. Washington and 
the Colombian government consider all three of Colombia's outlawed armed 
groups - two leftist rebel armies and a right-wing paramilitary outfit - 
drug trafficking terrorist organizations.

U.S. special forces troops have already trained a 2,000-member Colombian 
army counternarcotics brigade. Its task is to wipe out cocaine and 
heroin-producing crops which rebels and their paramilitary foes "tax," 
earning huge profits.

The U.S. Congress recently authorized the U.S. military to begin training a 
Colombian army brigade, which will try to prevent rebel attacks on the 
Cano-Limon pipeline, which runs across northern Colombia and carries oil 
belonging to Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum.

Julia Sweig, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in 
Washington, said she was not surprised by news that the United States would 
now be training Colombian army commandos.

"They've been paving the way for this kind of announcement," Sweig said in 
a telephone interview. She said she believed that word of the imminent 
training was kept quiet "to avoid 'the sky is falling,' Salvador, Vietnam, 

The U.S. official said at the briefing Thursday that candidates for the new 
special forces commando battalion would be picked from the Colombian army's 
Rapid Deployment Force who have undergone background checks to determine 
they have not been involved in human rights abuses.

Colombia's war kills some 3,500 people each year, and pits the rebels 
against the Colombian military and the paramilitary United Self-Defense 
Forces of Colombia.
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