The following are brief excerpts that relate to Colombia, from a
prepared statement of U.S. General Charles E. Wilhelm (USMC). Gen.
Wilhelm is the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Southern Command.
The General was appearing before the House Government Reform
and Oversight Committee's National Security, International Affairs,
and Criminal Justice Subcommittee.
Copyright 1998 Federal Information Systems Corporation
Federal News Service
MARCH 12, 1998, THURSDAY
PREPARED STATEMENT OF GENERAL CHARLES E. WILHELM, USMC,
COMMANDER IN CHIEF, U.S. SOUTHERN COMMAND BEFORE THE HOUSE
GOVERNMENT REFORM AND OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE NATIONAL
SECURITY, INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS, AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE
No one questions the strategic importance of the Middle East,
but Venezuela alone provides the same amount of oil to the
U.S. as do all the Persian Gulf states combined. The discovery
of major oil reserves in Colombia, and existing oil supplies in
Trinidad-Tobago and Ecuador, further increase the strategic
importance of this region's energy resources.
Colombia continues to be a troubled state plagued by violent
insurgencies, paramilitary forces, and drug trafficking. While
most of the region's insurgents have disappeared due to a lack
of international sponsorship, two groups, the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation
Army (ELN), survive. Both use narcotrafficking, kidnapping
and extortion to bankroll their operations. Their existence
seriously jeopardizes peace and economic progress.
Insurgents and rogue paramilitary forces continue to violate
the rights of innocent citizens. The FARC and ELN are not only
dangers to Colombia, they also threaten bordering countries.
To combat these insurgents, regional police and military forces must
increase coordination and cooperation. The Colombian Army is
currently on the defensive.
As part of a comprehensive approach to both the narcotrafficking
and insurgency problems, our engagement with the Colombian
military will address deficiencies that Colombian security forces have
shown in performing their counternarcotics mission.
SOUTHCOM just concluded a very successful Andean Ridge Chiefs of
Mission Conference in which Andean Ridge Ambassadors, DOS, NSA,
JS, DOD, CIA and DIA reviewed Colombia's instability and its effect on
the region. Discussions were fruitful reaching consensus on a wide
range of issues including developing initiatives for a regional
approach, promoting European involvement, and increasing
The nations of the Hemisphere are recognizing narcotrafficking
as a shared threat and a threat to national sovereignty.
Regional law enforcement forces, which have the lead role, are
progressing in the struggle against narcotrafficking within
their borders. This is largely the result of successful
engagement by various U.S. agencies with host nations.
The threat to national sovereignty is largely unchallenged as a
regional effort. Regional militaries should assist civilian law
enforcement agencies in the protection of their national
sovereignty against a threat which knows no borders.
SOUTHCOM's engagement must support these efforts. Where
we are conducting military engagement, we are seeing success.
Where our military engagement is limited, progress is
In the source zone, Operation LASER STRIKE, our airbridge
effort, continues to have a significant impact in deterring illegal air
traffic along the Peru-Colombia airbridge. In combined operations
Peru and Colombia, aerial and ground assets continue to degrade the
narcotraffickers' ability to move coca base from cultivation
areas in Peru to processing sites in Colombia. Last year alone, 27
narcotrafficking aircraft were either shot down, strafed, or seized by
Peruvian and Colombian end-game forces.
Riverine interdiction programs have been developed for Peru
and Colombia that will significantly improve the riverine
interdiction capabilities of those nations. Key elements of the
Peru plan include establishing a Joint Riverine Training Center
in Iquitos; training and equipping twelve operational Riverine
Interdiction Units; and procuring and outfitting three Floating
Support Bases. The training center will commence operations
this summer with the first operational unit coming online
during the 4tn quarter of FY98.
We are initiating a similar program to enhance the existing
Riverine program. Key elements of the Colombia plan include
infrastructure, providing spare parts, upgrading existing
communications and navigation equipment, enhancing
personnel protective equipment, sourcing additional riverine
patrol craft and improving the quality and depth of training.
These riverine initiatives are designed to provide Peru and
Colombia unilateral capabilities to apply pressure along critical
avenues where the narcotraffickers currently enjoy almost
uncontested freedom of movement.
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