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Last Updated:5/31/00
Excerpts from Defense Department News Briefing, Assistant Secretary of Defense Kenneth Bacon, May 30, 2000
DoD News Briefing

Tuesday, May 30, 2000 - 1:30 p.m. EDT
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 program?

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 back?

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.

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