HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html US Trio Abducted During Secret Anti-Drug Mission
Pubdate: Mon, 17 Feb 2003
Source: Times, The (UK)
Copyright: 2003 Times Newspapers Ltd
Author: David Adams


THREE Americans thought to have been captured by left-wing guerrillas in 
Colombia were on a secret intelligence mission inside rebel-held territory, 
according to military sources.

A huge search-and-rescue mission being carried out by 1,000 Colombian 
troops, assisted by US spy aircraft, has so far found no sign of the men, 
who could become valuable bargaining chips in the hands of the 
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), the country's largest rebel 
army. Two others, an American and a Colombian, were reported to have been 
shot dead during the capture.

The men were travelling on Thursday morning from Bogota, the capital, to 
the Larandia military base, an anti-drug and counter-insurgency operations 
centre in thick jungle about 235 miles to the south. US special forces have 
trained Colombian anti-drug battalions at Larandia and US military 
intelligence experts also operate radar facilities that track 
drug-smuggling flights, as well as co-ordinating aerial eradication of drug 

The men were described as Pentagon contractors who were assisting the 
Colombian military on an unspecified anti-drug mission. They were equipped 
with "jungle-busting" radar to identify FARC units, sources quoted by 
Newsweek magazine said.

The pilot of the single-engine Cessna told air traffic controllers that his 
engine had failed and that he was trying to glide. "Somewhere during the 
flight the engine cut out and they were looking for a place to put down," 
Chip Barclay, a State Department spokesman, said.

The pilot veered south, presumably to try to land in the provincial capital 
of Florencia. He never made it to the base, officials say, and had to land 
in an area full of guerrillas. Officials say that the aircraft was able to 
make a safe emergency landing. The pilot radioed his position and asked for 
a rescue team. But radio contact was lost soon afterwards.

The base commander at Larandia immediately ordered five Black Hawk 
helicopters to the area. But when they reached the site 30 minutes later 
they were surprised to find the burnt-out wreckage of the aircraft and the 
bodies of two of its occupants. Both appeared to have been shot at close 
range, one in the head and the other in the chest.

General Jorge Enrique Mora, Colombia's chief military commander, said that 
the five crew members were alive when the Cessna landed and that rebels had 
killed two of them "execution-style in an act of cruelty".

US officials have not released the identity of the dead American, citing 
security grounds. The Colombian was identified as Sergeant Luis Cruz, of 
Army Intelligence.

Colombian officials said that soldiers had found footprints near the 
wreckage, but no sign of the other three Americans. They also reported an 
intercepted Farc radio transmission, in which a rebel commander was heard 
saying: "We have them! We have them!" Local farmers reported seeing the men 
being escorted away by Farc guerrillas.

War Against Drugs

*The US has about 500 civilian and military personnel in Colombia providing 
military training and civilian assistance

*About 70 US special forces personnel are based in the northern province of 
Arauca to train troops in counter-guerrilla techniques and to defend an oil 

*Colombia is the third-highest recipient of US foreign aid, after Israel 
and Egypt. The US has pumped almost $2 billion (UKP1.2 billion) in mostly 
military aid into Colombia in the past three years in an effort to destroy 
the drugs industry

*The 18,000-strong Farc rebel group has never held hostage any American 
working for the US Government, but 46 US citizens have been kidnapped in 
Colombia since 1998

*The Farc holds several hundred hostages, including members of the 
Colombian police and military, as well as a former Defence Minister and a 
former presidential candidate
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