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Last Updated:7/7/04
Speech by Sen. John Warner (R- Virginia), June 23, 2004

Mr. WARNER. Very well. But I wish to speak for a few minutes.

I must oppose the Byrd amendment and urge my colleagues to do the same.

The provision in the underlying bill to raise the troop cap in Colombia from the current limitation of 400 military personnel and 400 contractors to 800 military personnel and 600 contractor personnel was recommended by GEN Hill, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, with the endorsement of the Department of Defense, Department of State and the National Security Council. This provision was unanimously approved during markup by the Committee with no dissenting discussion.

The United States has been assisting the government of Colombia--through Plan Colombia--for several years as Colombia continues its struggle against narcoterrorists.

During the course of this assistance, we have asked the Colombians to develop a comprehensive strategic plan for taking back their country. They have developed and begun implementing this plan, with our help.

During the course of this assistance, we have urged the Colombians to modernize their armed forces and become more decisive in their pursuit of the drug-financed insurgents who have terrorized their country for decades. The Colombian armed forces have gained confidence and stature and are forcefully and decisively carrying out increasingly sophisticated military operations with successful results.

Over the years, we have asked the Colombians to invest more of their own national treasure in defense, reduce drug cultivation, respect the human rights of their people. They have done so with very promising results. The Colombian armed forces are now the second most respected institution in Colombia, behind the Catholic Church, according to recent polling.

During the course of our assistance, we have asked the Colombians to be forthright about their future plans, requirements, and needs for additional assistance--they have been and that is why our regional commander and the administration asked for a modest increase in the troop cap, at the request of the Colombian government.

The regional commander has developed a prudent plan to provide additional planning and training assistance that will enable the Colombian armed forces to carry out the sophisticated, coordinated military operations that will allow them to successfully defeat the terrorists and end decades of terror and violence in Colombia.

Troop strength will not automatically double in Colombia, it will ebb and flow depending on progress in Colombia's overall strategy and the availability of U.S. troops to provide assistance.

U.S. troops will not be involved in combat operations. They will continue to work from secure sites, help train additional Colombian military units and help them plan and coordinate military operations.

We have a clear window of opportunity to help President Uribe and the people of Colombia help themselves and end this conflict, but we need this slight increase in assistance to help them realize this goal. Colombia has made great progress, by all measures, and deserves our support.

The Byrd amendment would limit our ability to provide the assistance Colombia has requested and our military commanders have recommended. A modest increase in troops and assistance now does not foreshadow an endless commitment of troops, money and sacrifice--quite the opposite--it offers the opportunity to help Colombia end this conflict in the near future. Defeating the narcoterrorists in Colombia, as quickly as possible, is clearly in the national security interests of our Nation.

The Byrd amendment will complicate the ability of our military commanders and our diplomats to help Colombia end this terrorist insurgency as soon as possible.

I urge my colleagues to vote no on this amendment.

I assure my colleagues that the discussion by the Armed Services Committee to raise these caps was one we did not take lightly. We considered it with very deliberate care. We feel we did so consistent with General Hill, commander of the southern command, who came up and specifically briefed the committee on the needs.

The bottom line is the nation Colombia has come a long way in the past few years to reestablish itself as a pillar of strength in that Central American band of nations where there is such fragility in the stability of these governments. It stands out as the courage of a government overcoming the insurgents in their countries, beginning to have success. For a very modest increase in our military presence and contractor presence, we can ensure the forward momentum of this success.

It is an enormous force multiplier of benefit to the United States of America. Were this nation to slip back into a situation which enabled more and more exporting of drugs from that region, possibly through Colombia, the consequence would be a weakening of that government, and there would be multiple degrees of negative impact on our economy, much less crime and death associated with drugs. So for a small number of additional military personnel which the military carefully crafted, the United States benefits greatly.

I yield the floor.

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