According to an Aug. 19 report in the Dallas Morning News by Tod Robberson, US intelligence and anti-narcotics sources say the Clinton Administration has responded to an offensive by leftist rebels in Colombia by launching a multimillion-dollar covert program to support the Colombian armed forces. They say the program goes well beyond the stated US mission of fighting drug traffickers in Colombia.
A US Embassy spokesman said there has been a "strategic redeployment" of all US personnel working under government contract in the zone of conflict since the rebel offensive began on Aug. 3. Some US Special Forces troops currently are allowed to participate in training exercise with Colombian soldiers under a Pentagon exchange program in existence since 1991. US officials said those US troops have not been assigned to combat roles, but are authorized to fight if fired upon. Legal restrictions bar other active-duty US military personnel from deployment in zones of conflict.
But sources in Bogotá told Robberson that the Clinton Administration has avoided the restrictions by hiring retired Green Berets and other private contractors to carry out sensitive jungle operations. Robberson cites several sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, saying that tens of millions in US taxpayer dollars are going into covert operations across southern Colombia employing, among others, US Special Forces, former Green Berets, Gulf War veterans and even a few figures from covert operations backed by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Central America during the 1980s. Some have been involved in direct combat with Colombian guerrillas, the sources said.
One participant in US operations in Colombia said he had flown combat missions over Baghdad during the US Gulf War and was involved in covert CIA operation to assist the Nicaraguan contras in the late 1980s. The participant said he flew several missions with Eugene Hasenfus, the sole US survivor of a CIA-backed flight shot down over Nicaragua by Sandinista troops on Oct. 5, 1986. "To get somebody out there to do those operations, you almost have to have that shady past," said Joe Toft, the former chief of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Colombia.
Some of the personnel involved in US operations in Colombia are working under a State Department contract with Dyncorp and East Inc., private firms based in suburban Washington. Officials of both companies said they were not permitted discuss their operations in Colombia and referred all questions to the State Department. While the companies officially provide pilot training and technical support for coca and poppy flights, one pilot said he had conducted a number of missions that went well beyond that scope, including assisting in the deployment of Colombian counter-insurgency troops. Two US pilots working for East Inc. were killed on July 27 near a military base at San José del Guaviare; the deaths are still under investigation.
Dyncorp personnel who were based at San José del Guaviare before the strategic redeployment said they were under strict orders not to talk to reporters. According to Robberson, the US Embassy in Bogotá has tried to discourage reporters from investigating the activities of government-contracted personnel in Colombia. One US reporter who sought to talk to Dyncorp pilots at San Josť del Guaviare said he was threatened with banishment from the US Embassy if he ever tried to approach Dyncorp personnel again. "Of course they have to keep it secret," said an intelligence operative in Bogotá who asked not to be identified. "They're up to a lot of things that they shouldn't be." He did not elaborate. (Dallas Morning News, 8/19/98)
Before the Dallas Morning News article was published, Robberson reports, State Department officials did not return his phone calls, and US Ambassador to Colombia Curtis Kamman declined an interview request. On Aug. 20, a day after the article appeared, a State Department spokesperson issued a denial: "These contractors are not mercenaries," she said. "They are not engaged in counterinsur-gency operations or any other activity not fully sanctioned by the US Congress and the executive branch." The Defense Department said in a statement that it has "no covert counterinsurgency program in Colombia" and that the Pentagon "employs no ex-military personnel, private contractors of mercenaries to conduct any covert counterinsurgency program in Colombia." The CIA declined to comment. "We don't discuss covert actions or activities," a spokesperson said. (Dallas Morning News 8/21/98)
From Weekly News Update, 8/23/98, see website at: http://home.earthlink.net/~dbwilson/wnuhome.html
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