from Defense Department News Briefing, Assistant Secretary of Defense
Kenneth Bacon, May 30, 2000
Tuesday, May 30, 2000 - 1:30
Presenter: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
Q: Can you tell us ways that
failure to pass the supplemental on Colombia has impacted any DOD assistance
to them or any of your operations that are directed towards the anti-drug
Mr. Bacon: Yes. It clearly
has had an impact on our ability to support counter-drug operations in
Colombia and to support President Pastrana's Plan Colombia. That is a
$7 billion plan to fight drug production and to strengthen the Colombian
economy, to maintain its democratic course while improving its prosperity.
That $7 billion plan envisions
$4 billion coming from Colombia and $3 billion coming from elsewhere.
Of that $3 billion, the U.S. -- the Clinton administration has proposed
providing $1.6 billion. That's what's being held up by the Senate. The
House passed it. It has strong support from Speaker of the House Hastert,
but it has not passed the Senate. Most of that money, the $1.6 billion,
is a supplemental for this year, the current fiscal year. Some of it would
be spent in year 2001.
Most of the money goes to
finance State Department programs, but there is a portion of it that funds
Defense Department programs. One particular gap that's been created by
this lack of funding is our ability to train and transport counterdrug
battalions. We have been working very aggressively with the Colombian
military to train two counterdrug battalions. These are people who have
been vetted for human rights abuses to make sure that we don't train people
who have been accused in the past of human rights abuses. We've worked
very closely with the embassy to get two battalions of about 900 people
each. The first battalion is fully trained, has been trained by the U.S.
military. But it can't do anything but foot patrols because they don't
have the mobility that would be provided by the supplemental, the $1.6
billion -- well, the part that's in this year is about $900 million, I
believe. Without the helicopters that would be provided by the State Department,
they don't have the ability to move outside of their current area.
A second counterdrug battalion
is assembled and vetted and ready for training, but the training hasn't
begun yet because we don't have the money to begin the training. So that
is one way in which the counterdrug operation has been set back by the
lack of action.
Q: Has your support for operations
in the Caribbean that are also part of the counterdrug effort, been cut
Mr. Bacon: There is some money
that would pay for setting up these forward operating bases, that would
give more airports from which we can work to provide intelligence, surveillance,
et cetera that's very important to providing information to the countries
in the region. My understanding is that some of that money has been held
up for lack of action on the supplemental.
Q: I've heard critics say
about Plan Colombia that even if these two battalions did have their helicopter
lift in place, that they would be transported into a very large area,
where the guerrillas have been operating among the peasants for many,
many, many years, and the cards would be stacked against these two battalions.
And then, the critics further say, what happens if they lose? Where does
that leave the United States? What's the game plan, in that eventuality?
Mr. Bacon: President Pastrana
has made a courageous and bold attempt to improve the fortunes of his
country, both economically and democratically, but also to try to contain
the power of the narco-traffickers and to make peace with the guerrillas.
We support what he's trying to do. It is a daunting challenge. It won't
be easy. But our choice, basically, is to sit on the sidelines and do
nothing, and say, "You're on your own," or to try to support
what everybody agrees is the right course of action, even though we know
it'll be difficult to carry out.
So yes, the counterdrug battalions
will face challenges. We know that. They know it, too. That's one of the
reasons we've worked so hard on trying to train them and equip them in
ways that they can do their job better than they were able to do it two
or three years ago. And that's one of the reasons why we want to provide
helicopters to help them carry a -- to cover a much broader area.
While we are not allowed to
continue our support for Plan Colombia because of the lack of congressional
approval, cocaine and heroin production are soaring in Colombia. And that
means that exports to the United States are also soaring from Colombia.
It's a real problem. And we would like to be able to work aggressively
with the Colombian government to stop that in any way we can, and lack
of clearance by the Senate makes it difficult to do that.
As of May 31, 2000, this document
was also available online at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/May2000/t05302000_t0530asd.html