HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html U.S. Troops Enter Colombia
Pubdate: Sun, 26 Jan 2003
Source: Tallahassee Democrat (FL)
Copyright: 2003 Tallahassee Democrat.
Author: Joseph L. Galloway


Special Forces Begin Dangerous Training To Protect Pipeline

ARAUCA, Colombia - American Army Special Forces teams moved last week into 
what a senior U.S. intelligence official calls "the most dangerous place in 
Colombia," to begin training Colombian soldiers to protect an often-bombed 
500-mile oil pipeline that runs along a porous border with neighboring 

At a time when American soldiers are policing Afghanistan and the Balkans, 
fighting a global battle against Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida, keeping watch 
on North Korea and preparing for possible military action in Iraq, the 
escalating U.S. military involvement in Colombia's drug war has gone 
largely unnoticed.

The arrival of the Green Berets signaled a more aggressive U.S. effort to 
help Colombian forces fight the guerrillas of the leftist National 
Liberation Army, or ELN, and newcomers to this region from the 
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Until now, American 
efforts have been aimed almost exclusively at curtailing cocaine and heroin 

The vulnerable oil pipeline is crucial to the Colombian government, which 
has seen millions of gallons of oil spill into the region's soil, rivers 
and streams and lost tens of millions in oil revenues.

The special forces team - A Company 3rd Battalion 7th Special Forces Group 
- - that's doing the training is from Fort Bragg, N.C., and is commanded by 
Maj. Bill White.

White will base 40 Special Forces troops on a small military base in the 
nearby town of Saravena and 30 others at a larger military post in Arauca. 
Two more will be stationed at the sprawling facilities at Cano Limon, where 
Occidental Petroleum and Colombia's Ecopetrol produce some $5 billion a 
year worth of oil. The Americans will rotate out every three months.

Medical evacuation team ready

As a sign of how dangerous a place this is, the Army also is sending in a 
medical evacuation team that includes several Blackhawk helicopters and 
their crews, a surgeon and nurse and several trained medics. They will be 
based with the Special Forces team in Arauca to provide emergency medical 
care and evacuation for any Americans wounded in the area.

Smaller Special Forces teams have been in Arauca and Saravena for the past 
two months, setting up communications and intelligence-gathering 
facilities, building heavily fortified living and working quarters in 
compounds in the middle of the Colombian Army facilities and planning the 
training mission.

Rings of concertina wire and heavily fortified bunkers surround the Special 
Forces compounds. In Arauca, the compound has a tall guard tower with 
security cameras and motion-activated perimeter lights. A sergeant said 
they had filled more than 70,000 sandbags to construct a head-high wall 
around the compound.

The Americans based in Arauca will advise and assist the Colombian Army's 
18th Brigade, which guards the long border with Venezuela, runs operations 
against terrorists and attempts to secure the Cano Limon pipeline in this 
region. Those based in Saravena will run five-week training courses for 
units assigned to protect the pipeline, in hopes they will begin more 
aggressive operations against the rebels.

The threat is real. In 2001, there were 127 attacks on the pipeline in the 
Arauca area. Last year there were only 26 attacks on the pipeline, but 
officials said the rebels had begun shifting their attacks to oil wells and 
crucial pumping stations in the field.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens