different war on terror," op-ed by Assistant Secretary of Defense
for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Thomas O'Connell,
The Washington Times, July 1, 2004
is closer to Bogota than to San Francisco, yet Colombia's struggle
against terrorist violence rarely makes headlines in the United
States. For nearly 50 years, terrorist organizations have attacked
Colombia, the second-oldest democracy in the Western Hemisphere,
using narcotics trafficking, extortion and kidnapping to fund
many in the United States know that thousands of children have
been forcibly abducted or duped into becoming part of the terrorists'
expendable first line of combat? Last year, FARC terrorists gave
an innocent 10-year-old boy a bicycle and 35 cents. As the unsuspecting,
excited boy rode past a police station, they detonated explosives
rigged to the bicycle, blowing him apart. In another incident,
a FARC car bomb exploded outside a Bogota social club, shattering
a birthday party, killing six innocent children.
Nor do the terrorists limit their attacks on the citizens of Colombia.
Environmental damage to Colombia's once-pristine jungles has been
devastating. Sabotaged pipelines have soaked the soil in oil,
and narco-terrorists have stripped lush forests to grow their
deadly crops. According to the Colombian National Police, more
than 240 million acres of jungle - an area 1.5 times the size
of Yellowstone National Park - have been clear-cut in the last
15 years to grow coca crops.
drug trade taints Colombia's water supply as well. In 2000 alone,
at least 250 million gallons and 240 million pounds of toxic chemicals
were used to process cocaine. The resulting chemical waste is
dumped into Colombia's rivers, destroying the fragile ecosystem.
Sadly, this damage to the environment goes largely unreported
by most environmental groups and the media.
a difficult past, there is now growing progress in Colombia's
battle against these terrorist actions.
recent visit to the United States by Colombian President Alvaro
Uribe highlighted the little-known but emerging success story
in both the war on terrorism and of American foreign policy -
in a country much closer to home than Iraq and Afghanistan.
Special Forces training has helped the Colombian military re-establish
a government presence across the country. For the first time in
40 years, nearly 100 percent of the towns in Columbia have military
or police forces providing security and enforcing the law. This
reflects a significant element of our own nation's strategy in
the global war on terror: the training and equipping of allied
forces in order to build the capacity to establish effective sovereignty
over their own territory.
by success on the battlefield and an increased government presence,
Colombians have significantly increased travel on previously unsafe
roadways throughout much of the country for the first time in
more than a decade.
Colombian peoples' confidence in their government extends beyond
security as well. The Colombian military has greatly improved
its record on human rights and continues to make progress. Recent
polls show 70 percent of Colombians believe their government performs
well on the issue of human rights.
new emphasis on respecting human rights is due to the hands-on
leadership of Mr. Uribe and his minister of defense. They, aided
by the training provided by U.S. Special Forces, have produced
a cadre of rededicated and professional Colombian military committed
to protecting the human rights of all Colombians.
rededication to military professionalism has been effective, as
74 percent of Colombians believe the armed forces are effective
and committed to their defense. Gen. "Tom" Hill and
the men and women of U.S. Southern Command (including elements
of the Army's 7th Special Forces Group) have much to show for
have responded favorably to Mr. Uribe's progressive efforts. Independent
polls show an optimism never seen before, spurring a revival in
the Colombian economy, which grew an impressive 3 percent last
year. Colombians who fled to the United States and Europe to escape
the violence are now returning and contributing to Colombia's
social and economic recovery.
own Congress shares some of the credit for the progress in Colombia
as well. Led by Speaker Dennis Hastert and enjoying bipartisan
support, Congress continues to fund activities that are making
a difference. U.S.-supported counter-narcotics programs to Colombia
have resulted in a 33 percent reduction over the last two years
of illegal coca cultivation. Continuing these programs is essential
to Colombia's security, since proceeds from the drug trade finance
terrorist activities of groups like the FARC.
Colombia's fight against terrorism is not yet won, Colombia is
approaching a tipping point. With time, effort and continued assistance
from America, this may well be the first generation of Colombians
who have the opportunity to learn about violence in their country
from history books rather than by walking down the street.
W. O'Connell is the assistant secretary of defense for Special
Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict.
July 1, 2004, this document was also available online at http://www.washtimes.com/op-ed/20040630-084722-1141r.htm