Pubdate: Tue, 21 Sep 1999
Source: 60 Minutes II 
Copyright: 1999 Burrelle's Information Services CBS News Transcripts 
Note: Video from this is currently available at:


United States Trains Commandos To Fight In The War On Drugs In Colombia 

DAN RATHER, co-host:

The United States is on the verge of a dramatic escalation in a war that
you probably know nothing about.  The proposal is to spend at least another
$ 1 billion to fight an army of old-line Marxist guerrillas in Colombia who
now have gone into the drug trade.  The president of Colombia is in
Washington this week to push for the whole amount.  This may sound like the
start of a new war, but it's actually only the latest battle in a secret
war America has been fighting in Colombia for most of the '90s, a war that
was started to take out Colombia's drug lords and a war fought by secret
warriors trained by the United States.

(Footage of commandos; helicopter; Major Gil Macklin and commandos; Rather
exiting plane)

RATHER: (Voiceover) They're called Copes commandos, a small US-trained
strike force of deadly warriors.  Since 1992, they have been fighting
America's secret war on drugs in the jungles of Colombia.  And one of the
men who trained them in the art of killing is former US Marine Major Gil
Macklin.  We met up with him in Colombia recently to meet America's secret
allies and to learn details of a mission about which he has never spoken
publicly before.  

When we say Copes, in brief, what are we talking about?

Maj.  MACKLIN: The Copes are the--the direct action forces of the Colombian
National Police.  They're like the Delta Force.  Their skills are honed on
a regular basis to go at a moment's notice, to do anything at any time.

(Footage of commandos; vintage footage of Pablo Escobar and others on
motorcycles; Escobar and others on boat; Escobar and others on beach;
assassination of presidential candidate; aftermath of bombed plane; footage
of Ambassador Morris Busby)

RATHER: (Voiceover) But to understand the significance of the Copes today,
we have to go back to the early '90s, to when the United States started
backing PAGE 2 CBS News Transcripts, September 22, 1999, Wednesday them for
one mission and one mission alone: to take down the Colombian drug lords,
wipe out the cartels.  And chief among their targets was this man, Pablo
Escobar.  It was widely reported that he was killed in 1993, but details of
how he was killed have never been revealed.  Escobar was a larger-than-life
character, colorful, ruthless and seemingly unstoppable.  Eighty percent of
the cocaine consumed in America came from him.  His assassins murdered
anyone who got in his way, even taking out a presidential candidate at a
nationally televised rally.  But when he reportedly ordered the bombing of
this Avianca passenger plane with five Americans on board, Escobar's reign
of terror suddenly hit home.  Morris Busby was the US ambassador to Colombia.

Now that bombing was an Escobar bombing to do what?

Ambassador MORRIS BUSBY (Colombia): As near as we were ever able to piece
together, it was a bombing to kill one particular individual on the airplane.

RATHER: That Escobar wanted taken out?

Amb.  BUSBY: Yes.  And so they killed everybody else on the airplane.

RATHER: But who would kill 120-some-odd people to get one person?

Amb.  BUSBY: A monster.

(Vintage footage of George Bush exiting plane; footage of Busby; US
Embassy; vintage footage of Macklin and commandos; Jesuit mission; commandos)

RATHER: (Voiceover) President Bush was so outraged, he ordered the
beginning of a secret war to take Escobar down.  And Ambassador Busby was
the man he chose to do it.  A former Navy SEAL, Morris Busby, like Major
Macklin, has never spoken publicly about his role in the secret war.  It
all began when he turned the US Embassy into a war command and dispatched
Macklin, among others, to start forming the small army that is now known as
the Copes commandos.  Macklin and a team of Marine trainers set up shop at
this ancient Jesuit mission at the foot of the Andes.  Their job was to
find a few good men, young, uncorrupted and prepared to die for their country.

Maj.  MACKLIN: At the tip of the spear were these young farm boys from the
valleys, the hills, the mountains and jungles of Colombia who came from

(Footage of commandos training)

RATHER: (Voiceover) Once he assembled enough men, Macklin gave them a crash
course in the dark arts of killing--day and night, the kind of training
only Special Forces do, exercises like this one: shooting live ammunition
inches from each other's heads.

Maj.  MACKLIN: See this guy here? He's very dead.

(Footage of commandos training)

RATHER: (Voiceover) Macklin taught them his philosophy, kill or be killed,
and he taught them how to fight, to take down the drug lords by surprise,
to take them at a time and a place when they would least expect it. PAGE 3
CBS News Transcripts, September 22, 1999, Wednesday Maj. MACKLIN:
(Voiceover) These men kill without compunction and die without complaint.
There is--there is one solution, and their solution is to accomplish the
mission and come out in one piece.

RATHER: Marines are trained to kill people and break things.  Is that what
you trained these Copes commandos to do?

Maj.  MACKLIN: Yes.

(Footage of commandos; ambulance; fires; General Rosso Jose Serrano and

RATHER: (Voiceover) It's a chilling idea: Americans training killers with
ski masks.  But that's exactly what Gil Macklin set out to do.  And back in
1992, with Colombia being terrorized by the drug lords, the stakes were
never higher. Macklin trained them, and this Colombian police commander was
chosen to take them into battle.  At a time when thousands of cops were on
cartel payrolls, General Rosso Jose Serrano was considered to be
incorruptible.  And for him and his 120 commandos, all of them devout
Catholics, the mission against the drug lords was a moral crusade.

General ROSSO JOSE SERRANO: (Through Translator) We know that God is going
to protect us and help us.  We with faith have been able to move mountains.

(Footage of Serrano and commandos; Air Force airplane)

RATHER: (Voiceover) They may have relied on their faith that God was
watching over them, but they also believed in something else: high-tech
weaponry that Ambassador Busby delivered courtesy of the most powerful war
machine on Earth.

Amb.  BUSBY: We spared nothing in trying to use all of the intelligence we
could find on a worldwide basis to pass to the Colombians to try and find him.

RATHER: And your assets? DEA, CIA, FBI, Special Forces, Delta Forces?

Amb.  BUSBY: All of the above.

RATHER: Has there been any other occasion which you know of in which the
United States said right from the top, 'This is what we're going to do, and
we're going to commit whatever assets are necessary to do it, and we're
going to have the determination and the staying power that it takes to get
it done'?

Amb.  BUSBY: I can't think of anything that--that we went into that we
stayed with the way we stayed with this.  We never wavered.

(Vintage footage of commandos; dead soldiers; helicopter; gunners on

RATHER: (Voiceover) In the summer and fall of 1992, the mission began and
they moved systematically.  To get to Escobar, the Copes had to first
eliminate each and every one of his lieutenants.  These are the pictures of
what they left behind, dead and injured soldiers of the drug cartels.  The
search for Escobar, spanning a period of a year and a half, was one of the
most intense manhunts ever mounted. PAGE 4 CBS News Transcripts, September
22, 1999, Wednesday Amb.  BUSBY: Well, the strategy that was followed was
strip away his lieutenants, strip away all of his money, go after his
infrastructure, take down everything that protects him.  And that was done
on a very systematic and organized basis.

RATHER: Now we're not talking about one or two or three raids here, are we?
Or are we?

Maj.  MACKLIN: No.  We're talking about a whole series of raids that were
conducted to take out the--the central nervous system of the cartels.

RATHER: We're talking about tens of raids, dozens of raids, hundreds of raids?

Maj.  MACKLIN: Hundreds.

RATHER: And what were they up against?

Maj.  MACKLIN: The best that money could buy.  Escobar reportedly hired
some of the best mercenaries in the world--British, Israeli, Russian.

RATHER: Wait a minute, wait a minute.  Working for Pablo Escobar were some
of the best special operations people who were British and Israeli?

Maj.  MACKLIN: Exactly.

(Vintage footage of commandos in vehicles)

RATHER: (Voiceover) But the Copes gradually eliminated those surrounding
Escobar, nearly 100 lieutenants in his private army.

Maj.  MACKLIN: (Voiceover) In the dead of night, they'd come like darkness,
and they'd bust through a door or a window or go through the roof.

And they'd capture these arrogant, narcissistic animals, the drug lords,
and they'd bring them to justice.  And that's what they did.

(Vintage footage of funeral)

RATHER: (Voiceover) The Copes took heavy casualties themselves, many of
them killed by Escobar's hit men.

Maj.  MACKLIN: (Voiceover) The price they paid in flesh and blood is
tremendous; it's enormous.

If we lose two cops who get killed in the US Capitol, like we did last
summer, Washington ground to a halt.  They lose two cops before breakfast
every morning.

(Vintage footage of commandos; footage of Rather and Busby at scene of

RATHER: (Voiceover) It took two years from the time they began training for
American intelligence to finally corner Escobar.  We went with Ambassador
Busby back to the scene of the final showdown. PAGE 5 CBS News Transcripts,
September 22, 1999, Wednesday Amb.  BUSBY: In the final moments, what
happened was that Pablo Escobar was talking on a phone to his son, and he
was standing at one of these windows and the police van rolled up the
street here; they--they were monitoring the conversation.  And he said to
his son, 'There's something wrong.  I have to go.' (Footage of roof of
building; vintage footage of Escobar's body; footage of commandos throwing
Macklin into pond)

RATHER: (Voiceover) Escobar tried to escape up the stairs.  He got as far
as the roof.  That's where the commandos gunned him down.  For Gil Macklin
and his Copes commandos, it will always be remembered as their finest hour.
 But it was a triumph that could only be shared in private.  Of the 120
Copes he trained, half of them died in action.  As Macklin sees it, they
died fighting America's war.

Maj.  MACKLIN: Copes!

RATHER: But the American public didn't know about this.

Maj.  MACKLIN: No.

RATHER: Have any second thoughts about that? Secret operation overseas,
training young men to break and enter and kill and...

Maj.  MACKLIN: None whatsoever.  Not now.  I just wish we'd done more.

RATHER: I think most Americans think we always lose in the drug wars.  In
fact, the record shows that if we don't always lose, we lose nearly all the

Amb.  BUSBY: But that's not true.  That's not true.  We scored a great
success here.

RATHER: But it's hard to talk about success when today more drugs are
coming into America from Colombia than ever before.  The sad truth about
the drug war is that getting rid of one enemy seems only to bring on
another even more menacing one.  After Pablo Escobar came the drug lords of
the Cali cartel. And the man who led the Copes commandos, General Serrano,
became a national hero when he wiped them out.  But by the time we met up
with him last month, he was facing yet another enemy.

(Footage of Rather and Serrano in vehicle with security vehicles; guerrillas)

RATHER: (Voiceover) When we travel with the general through Colombia today,
this is how he moves, escorted by an army of security.  He is a living
symbol of the war against the drug trade in his own country and a lot of
people would like to see him dead, especially his new enemies.  They are
armed guerrillas.  Led by old-style Marxists, the guerrillas began moving
into the drug trade after the urban cartels were taken out.  And today drug
money has transformed that guerrilla army as it pursues its age-old war
against the government of Colombia, according to US drug czar General Barry

General BARRY McCAFFREY (Drug Czar): These insurgent forces are fueled by
massive amounts of money that produce shiny new uniforms, planes,
helicopters and more automatic weapons in their battalions than in the
Colombian army. PAGE 6 CBS News Transcripts, September 22, 1999, Wednesday
Representative DAN BURTON (Republican, Indiana): A blind person could have
seen there's a problem.

(Footage of Dan Burton at House of Representatives; McCaffrey; guerrillas)

RATHER: (Voiceover) For two years now, Republican congressmen like Dan
Burton have been accusing McCaffrey and the Clinton administration of
ignoring the mounting threat posed by Colombia's narcoguerrillas.  Last
month the drug czar joined this chorus, saying that he, too, is alarmed and
now wants the US to intervene with $ 1 billion to counter this new and
growing enemy in America's war on drugs.

What's the single most important thing for Americans to know?

Gen.  McCAFFREY: The Colombians are involved in a situation of incredible
violence.  The situation's veering out of control, and we need to step in
and stand with the forces of democracy in Colombia.

(Footage of Capitol; guerrillas; commandos)

RATHER: (Voiceover) The $ 1 billion McCaffrey wants would inevitably put
the United States into the position of taking on a full-scale guerrilla
army, and that's an escalation many in Washington don't want.  Whether we
choose to ante up or not, the Copes commandos have already started to move
in on key guerrilla positions.  For them, the war on drugs never ends.

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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake