This is an August 2007 copy of a website maintained by the Center for International Policy. It is posted here for historical purposes. The Center for International Policy no longer maintains this resource.

Last Updated:4/12/02
Testimony of Peter W. Rodman, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Department of Defense, April 11, 2002







APRIL 11, 2002

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before this Subcommittee. I want to associate myself with the testimony of my distinguished colleague, Assistant Secretary of State Reich. I am honored to provide the Defense Department's perspective on threats to Colombian democracy and the Bush Administration’s proposed initiatives to assist the Government of Colombia in addressing those threats.

Policy That Adapts to Changing Circumstances

The Administration has wrestled with developing a more effective policy and strategy to address terrorism as well as narcotics trafficking—the twin challenges posed by Colombia’s illegal armed groups.

Both the U.S. and Colombian governments recognize that the threat has evolved and now requires new thinking and new programs. President Pastrana’s decision to terminate the FARC safehaven and this Administration’s request for new authority, as described by Ambassador Reich, reflect our shared assessment that terrorism and narcotics trafficking are inextricably linked in Colombia today.

For the past decade, U.S. aid has focused almost exclusively on counternarcotics. Although counterdrug programs remain an important part of the security equation in Colombia, our assistance has not yet had a decisive impact on the political and security challenges that continue to threaten both Colombian democracy and U.S. interests. Therefore, President Bush has asked Congress for:

-- expanded authority for Colombia to use U.S.-provided support in its unified campaign against narcotics trafficking and terrorist activities; and

-- new funding in Fiscal Year 2003 that would provide assistance to train and equip units to protect critical economic infrastructure.

These authorities will provide the Government of Colombia with the flexibility and resources needed to combat violent and formidable narcoterrorist threats to Colombia's national security. Over the past several years, these groups have increased their involvement in illicit drug operations. These drug revenues contribute to their war chests and have enabled them to increase their terrorist activities, placing further pressure on Colombia's democracy. This critical assistance will allow the Colombian security forces to confront more vigorously the increasing narcoterrorist attacks by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN) and deal more effectively with the narcoterrorist paramilitary groups, like the United Self Defense Group of Colombia (AUC).

These three groups—the AUC, ELN, and FARC—already are designated under U.S. law as terrorist organizations. Although not considered terrorists with global reach, they threaten regional stability and U.S. interests through transnational arms and drug trafficking, kidnapping, and extortion. Together, these groups are responsible for more than 90 percent of the terrorist incidents in this hemisphere. The changes in authorities described by Ambassador Reich will help Colombia fight these groups more effectively, not only in traditional coca-growing regions such as Putumayo and Caqueta, but throughout Colombia.

Beyond the toll in Colombian lives and treasure, these organizations have kidnapped and murdered U.S. citizens with impunity and damaged major U.S. commercial interests, such as oil pipelines. Accordingly, the Administration’s strategy is to provide the Colombian government with the wherewithal and incentive to confront these groups throughout the national territory, whether or not individual units or combatants are engaged directly in drug-related activities. This is because, as we have learned, Colombia’s major terrorist organizations both enable the drug trade and are financed in significant part by the revenues drugs provide. Attempting to segregate drugs and terrorism into distinct and severable threats is both politically unrealistic and militarily futile. Colombia urgently needs to establish the rule of law in its many regions that are presently ruled by lawless violence. A crucial component in this objective is a stronger, more effective security presence.

Today, the political/military situation in Colombia has reached a stalemate. Taken together, the FARC, ELN and AUC effectively control over 40% of Colombian territory. This stalemate works to the advantage of those groups, whose acts of terror and narcotics trafficking continue unabated even though the overall military contest remains inconclusive. Hence, this situation compounds all of Colombia’s problems:

· It delegitimates the democratic state.

· It undercuts any real possibility of negotiation with the guerrillas on better-than-surrender terms.

· It places a ceiling on what can be accomplished with the counternarcotics effort.

· It creates a security vacuum that is filled in part by the rightist paramilitaries. It is a vicious circle.

The Colombian State's weakness in many parts of the country leads many citizens to believe that the paramilitary groups are more effective in promoting security. In turn, these groups receive greater support and legitimacy, making the state's ability to fill the vacuum even more difficult.

· The activities of the paramilitaries, of course, also undercut political support for Colombia in the United States.

The United States cannot solve all of Colombia’s problems with increased levels of aid, and given Colombia’s human and capital resources, we need not do so. Currently, the government devotes approximately 3.5% of GDP to combating the narcoterrorists. Colombia must shoulder more of the burden by funding its security structure—meaning both military and police—at levels that are more appropriate for a wartime footing.

We are encouraged by President Pastrana's recent decision to increase the force structure by 10,000 soldiers and provide an additional $110 million for military operations related to elimination of the FARC safehaven. But current funding for security forces is simply inadequate to meet the current threat, and Colombian forces are simply too small and poorly equipped to provide basic security to large areas of the country. At the end of the conflict in El Salvador, the military had 50 helicopters while Colombia, fifty times larger, has only roughly four times as many. The Colombian military has roughly an 8:1 soldier advantage over the narcoterrorist, an inadequate ratio if the military is to seize the initiative in the conflict.

The Colombian military's situation is partly due to the evolving nature of the threat, partly due to a lag in the Colombian public’s learning curve, and partly due to lingering hope that numerous peace proposals would be successful.

As Ambassador Reich pointed out, after three years of FARC duplicity at the negotiating table, on 20 February 2002 President Pastrana eliminated the FARC safehaven. Frustrated at the FARC's lack of good faith, the Colombian public appears to be gaining a more realistic understanding of the security challenges their country faces. But Colombia’s difficulty in providing for its own security is due in no small part to its inability to protect significant revenue-producing infrastructure such as oil pipelines, which leads us back to the imperative for expanded authorities that Ambassador Grossman has described.

Effective Sovereignty and Basic Security

If U.S. aims in Colombia are cast solely in terms of reducing the production and export of drugs to the United States, important aspects of the violence there and the inability of the government to respond effectively will be ignored. As a practical matter, we cannot view Colombia as a country in which we either adhere to a counterdrug program or slide unwittingly into a Vietnam-style counterinsurgency. More realistically, we must pursue policies and fashion programs that permit Colombia to meet the challenge of the narcoterrorists so that U.S. forces are not called upon to do so. There is a strong moral and strategic impetus behind this support for one of the United States' oldest and most reliable hemispheric allies.

Virtually all experts concur that the problems of narcotrafficking and guerrilla violence are intertwined. Both the United States and the Government of Colombia hold that reducing drug exports can serve important political and security objectives by reducing drug-related income available to illegal armed groups. Nevertheless, though drug-related income is an important factor in sustaining insurgents and paramilitaries, it is doubtful that even effective counternarcotic operations in specific areas within Colombia can, on their own, be decisive in disabling illegal armed groups or forcing them to negotiate seriously for peace.

Continuing to link U.S. aid to Colombia to a narrow counternarcotics focus means that, by law, we must refrain from providing Colombia certain kinds of military assistance and intelligence support that could immediately strengthen the government’s position throughout the country. Hundreds of attacks by the ELN and FARC have been directed at electrical, natural gas and oil infrastructure. The narcoterrorists' sabotage of oil pipelines alone has cost the Government of Colombia lost revenue on the order of $500 million per year. The pipeline was bombed 170 times in 2001, spilling 2.9 million barrels of oil -- eleven times the amount of the Exxon Valdez.

The Administration has proposed to Congress $6 million in FY02 supplemental funding and $98 million in FY03 Foreign Military Finance funding to train and equip vetted Colombian units to protect that country's most threatened piece of critical economic infrastructure -- the first 170 kilometers of the Cano-Limon oil pipeline. This segment is the most often attacked. U.S. assistance and training will support two Colombian Army brigades, National Police and Marines operating in the area. These units through ground and air mobility will be in a better position to prevent and disrupt attacks on the pipeline and defend key facilities and vulnerable points such as pumping stations. These units will also send a message that the Colombian State is committed to defending its economic infrastructure -- resources that provide sorely needed employment and revenue -- from terrorist attacks.

Basic security throughout Colombia's national territory is the essential but missing ingredient. The Pastrana administration's Plan Colombia was an admirable start toward resolving Colombia's interrelated problems, of which the security component is only one part. But there can be no rule of law, economic development and new job creation, strengthening of human rights or any other noble goals, where there is no basic security.

Therefore, our policy in Colombia should augment traditional counterdrug programs with programs to help Colombia enhance basic security. A friendly democratic government in our hemisphere is struggling to preserve its sovereign authority under assault from extremists of both left and right. U.S. policy towards Colombia requires a bipartisan consensus at home for a long-term strategy aimed at strengthening Colombia’s ability to enforce effective sovereignty and preserve democracy. The new and more explicit legal authorities that the Administration is proposing are intended to serve these goals.

Human Rights Concerns

The Administration is concerned, as are many Members of Congress, about human rights in Colombia. President Pastrana has instituted important reforms. The practices and procedures that the U.S. government has put in place, often at the behest of concerned Members of Congress, and the example set by the small number of our U.S. troops training Colombian forces, have also had an impact. Professionalism is, after all, what we teach. Human rights violations attributed to the armed forces dropped by 95% during the period of 1993-1998, to fewer than three percent of the total reported abuses.

Armed forces cooperation with the civilian court system in prosecuting human rights violations committed by military personnel has improved. Over 600 officers and noncommissioned officers have been relieved of duty under a 2000 Presidential decree that provides military commanders a legal means for removing personnel suspected of human rights violations and collusion with the paramilitaries. Officers have been dismissed for collaboration with or tolerance of paramilitary activities, while others face prosecution. The armed forces have demonstrated aggressiveness recently in seeking out and attacking paramilitary groups.

Indeed, as already stated, the problem of the paramilitaries is itself partly a function of the vacuum left by the weakness of the national government and the Colombian military. By bolstering the democratic government and its effective assertion of national sovereignty, we weaken the paramilitaries.

Colombians Must Make the Main Effort

Although a policy cast in terms of basic security should enhance overall prospects for peace and for more effective counternarcotics, neither goal is assured without a firm and enduring commitment by the Colombian government and Colombian people to devote a greater share of their own national resources to the effort. The key principle should remain that the Colombian people bear the ultimate responsibility for their own security and must demonstrate their national will through a commitment of resources.

The Colombian military, by its own admission, is not optimally structured or organized to execute sustained operations. The Colombian military has greatly improved in many respects over the last several years -- especially in the areas of tactical and operational effectiveness, increased professionalism, human rights training and awareness, and has realized a modest but sustained increase in force structure. But the military continues to suffer from limited resources, inadequate training practices, significant shortfalls in intelligence and air mobility, and lack of joint planning and operations. They need to better coordinate operations among the services and with the Colombian National Police. Adequate funding and restructuring of the military are essential if Colombia is to have continuing operational success against its national threats.

The adoption of Plan Colombia demonstrates that Colombia is moving forward aggressively, exercising its political will to address, and ultimately solve, domestic problems that have persisted for decades. The U.S. has an enormous stake in the success of this plan.

Victory in Colombia can only come -- and U.S. interests in Colombia can best be served -- once the Government of Colombia asserts effective sovereignty over its national territory. It is time for the United States to reinforce its commitment to Colombian democracy.


President Pastrana has asked for both international and U.S. support to address an internal problem that has international dimensions -- fueled in part by our country’s and the international demand for cocaine. It is time to move forward, in partnership between the Administration and Congress.

Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, I again thank you for the opportunity to discuss these issues with you.

As of April 12, 2002, this document was also available online at
Search WWW Search

Financial Flows
National Security

Center for International Policy
1717 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Suite 801
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 232-3317 / fax (202) 232-3440