THE TIMES (London)

Friday, 20 March 1998

US 'is risking new Vietnam' in Colombia
By David Adams

Pentagon faces being sucked into a bloody quagmire, writes David 

THE United States risks being sucked into a Vietnam-style quagmire 
after stepping up military and civilian involvement in Colombia to 
counter increased instability caused by left-wing rebels and the 
drugs war. 

So far this year, the US military and counter-drug presence in 
Colombia has almost doubled to more than 200 officials. They are 
involved in counter-insurgency training, intelligence gathering and 
civilian spraying of drug crops.

In response, one of the two main guerrilla groups this week 
threatened to target US military advisers, claiming that they are 
conducting covert counter-insurgency operations. American military 
officials deny they are significantly beefing up their presence, 
claiming the numbers fluctuate as personnel are rotated. They say no 
US combat troops are stationed in Colombia and most personnel are 
involved in manning two radar stations that monitor drug-smuggling 

The Clinton Administration has shied away from outright 
involvement in fighting the guerrillas, partly because of the human 
rights abuses committed by the Colombian military and its 
paramilitary allies. The focus of US policy towards the country has 
been fighting cocaine, heroin and marijuana traffic. But the US 
involvement in the drugs war has taken on more of a counter-
insurgency role since the guerrillas established lucrative links with 
drug traffickers. The flow of drugs money into guerrilla coffers has 
turned them into one of the best financed, most highly equipped 
rebel fighting forces in Latin America's long history of guerrilla 

After a humiliating defeat of the Colombian Army this month by 
guerrillas operating in the country's dense southern jungle, 
Washington is hotly debating increased aid to tackle the rebels. 
About 80 soldiers died in the attack and another 60 were taken 
prisoner by the guerrillas. 

The Clinton Administration is also urging Colombia to increase its 
own efforts to strengthen its ill equipped armed forces. That was the 
message during a visit to Colombia this week by General Charles 
Wilhelm, head of the Miami-based US Southern Command, 
responsible for US security in Latin America. But on Monday, the 
guerrilla commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia 
(Farc), who led this month's attack, warned America to stay away. 
Fabian Ramirez, a Farc regional commander, said: "The claim that the 
United States is combating drugs in Colombia is a sophism. All the 
military and economic aid it is giving to the army is to fight the 
guerrillas." He added: "Most (Colombian army) battalions have US 
advisers, so it is clear that Colombian rage will explode at any 
moment, and the objective will be to defeat the Americans." 

Analysts say it is time that Washington reviewed its policy in 
Colombia. Increased US involvement could give the guerrillas more 
ideological ammunition, they say. Coletta Youngers, an expert on 
Colombia at the Washington Office on Latin America, said: "You can 
look at case after case over history in which the United States gets 
involved and then slides down this slippery slope, from Vietnam to 
Central America." 

Copyright 1998 Times Newspapers Limited

This month's news | CSN Home