About Caucus







February 28, 2001

Plan Colombia: An Initial Assessment

Mr. Robert J. Newberry
Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for
Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict
Department of Defense

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control to discuss the implementation of the Department of Defense’s support for the Government of Colombia’s Plan Colombia. Reducing the supply of drugs on our streets is an integral component of our National Drug Control Strategy and the Department of Defense (DoD) plays a key supporting role in creating the opportunity for law enforcement agencies, both our own and those of foreign nations, to interdict the flow of drugs into our country.

DoD is executing its portion of the U.S. Government assistance package in support of President Pastrana’s Plan Colombia. While I have confidence in this effort, I would like to reiterate that program execution has been, and will continue to be, a challenge and results will not be evident for some time. The vastness of southern Colombia and the lack of significant infrastructure pose major challenges. The sheer number of supporting contracts being implemented to ensure the long-term viability of this effort will require the Department to continue its close management of the overall program.

Department witnesses have previously testified before Congress with respect to our concerns about coordination between the Colombian military and National Police, human rights practices, and the increasing impact that paramilitary organizations are having on the drug trade. Now, roughly six months following passage of the congressional appropriation supporting the increased U.S. assistance to Plan Colombia, I would like to note that we have observed progress in all these areas.

Coordination between the Colombian armed services and the Colombian National Police has improved, as evidenced by the successful eradication operations currently being conducted in the Putumayo region. Likewise, the Colombian military has made progress in holding members of the military accountable for their actions with respect to violations of human rights, most recently trying and convicting an Army General and Colonel for failing to prevent a massacre by paramilitary forces in 1997. This is a landmark decision as it is the first time that the Colombian military judiciary has convicted a flag officer for such an offense and it demonstrates the will to hold accountable those individuals who choose to act outside of the rule of law. Lastly, the Colombian military has increasingly taken more aggressive action against paramilitary forces operating in various regions around the country. More clearly needs to be done in all of these areas and the Department will continue to press the Government of Colombia for concrete results in its efforts to improve the human rights performance in the military.

Let me briefly outline the Department’s programs and where we stand with respect to execution to date.


Counternarcotics Battalion Support

The Department completed training of the second Colombian counternarcotics battalion, using members of the US Army’s 7th Special Forces Group, in December of last year and is currently training the third battalion. The first and second counternarcotic battalions have successfully supported the aerial interdiction program now being implemented in the Putumayo region. These battalions give the Colombian Army a complete counterdrug brigade in the Putumayo/Caqueta region to engage what is the world’s largest coca cultivation center.

Counternarcotics Brigade Headquarters

The establishment of a counterdrug brigade headquarters is sequenced to support the strategic and tactical operation of the counterdrug Brigade located in southern Colombia. Department support for this program began in the first quarter of fiscal year 2001. Allocated funding will provide for training, communications equipment, computer needs, facility modification, and similar requirements. The counternarcotics brigade headquarters has reached initial operational capability however equipment upgrades will continue through the end of this fiscal year.

Army Aviation Infrastructure Support

The Colombian Army does not have the infrastructure necessary to support the number and mix of helicopters that will be provided by the Department of State using emergency supplemental funding. DoD will fund a variety of critical aviation infrastructure needs to support the UH-1N, UH-1H Huey II and UH-60 helicopters that are required to provide mobility for the counternarcotics battalions. This program will include funding for electrical utilities and road infrastructure, aviation fuel storage and fueling systems, security improvements, parking aprons and helicopter pads, a maintenance hanger, an operations facility, and a taxiway. DoD has conducted several site surveys and hosted conferences to facilitate planning for this challenging requirement. Support contracts are expected to be awarded in March of 2001 and continue through 2002.

Pilot and support training is required to ensure the maximum operational capability of the helicopters being provided to the Colombian military by the Department of State. DoD has agreed to support this initiative and plans to ensure that an adequate number of Colombian military personnel are sufficiently trained to support air mobile operations when the new aircraft are delivered.

Military Reform

For some time the Department has been managing a contractor-led endeavor to provide the necessary assistance to Colombia to support the government’s effort to restructure its military establishment so it can successfully engage the drug threat throughout the country. The focus of this effort is not tactical but organizational in nature, centered at the Minister of Defense level and the uniformed services of Colombia. The contractor’s efforts have focused on restructuring and improving military planning, logistics support for ground and air operational assets, development of counternarcotics military doctrine, development of counternarcotics military strategy, new concepts on recruitment and conscription, development of an integrated intelligence capability, improved computerization and command and control, and similar initiatives. The program will also support efforts to promote human rights and effect judicial reforms. This effort has been completed, with the Colombian military being provided with detailed recommendations on each area of their military.

Organic Intelligence Capability

The intelligence collection capability in the region will be enhanced to support operations by the counternarcotic battalions. This program will provide the counternarcotics battalions with a combination of airborne and ground tactical intelligence capabilities to directly assist in the planning and execution of counterdrug operations. It is scheduled to begin in the third quarter of fiscal year 2001 and be sustained for an extended period of time.


Tracker Aircraft Modification

DoD is currently modifying the first of two Colombia Air Force C-26 Merlin aircraft by installing APG-66 air-to-air radars, Forward Looking Infrared Radars (FLIRs), and communications equipment. The completed aircraft will give Colombia an organic capability to terminally track and intercept illegal smuggling aircraft that move the cocaine from the HCl labs in southeastern Colombia to the western Colombian highway system that feeds the coasts for transshipment to the United States. These modified aircraft will replicate the terminal radar interceptor that supported the Peruvians in their successful air denial operation against the Peru-to-Colombia air bridge. The modifications to both aircraft should be completed by the end of calendar year 2001.

AC-47 Aircraft Modifications

The Department is currently funding the installation of a FLIR in one of the four operational Colombian AC-47 aircraft. The FLIR will greatly enhance the aircraft’s ability to support night operations against drug smuggling activities. This aircraft will be delivered to the Colombian Air Force in March of 2001.

Funding will also support modification of an additional Colombian DC-3, converting it into an AC-47 aircraft with FLIR, night vision cockpit, and fire control systems. This will be the fifth operational AC-47 in the Colombian inventory. These planes have been used very effectively by the Colombian military in support of operations against drug trafficking aircraft on the ground. The long range of the AC-47 is a clear operational advantage given the limited number of tactical airfields and the large region being covered. This aircraft upgrade is scheduled to be completed in the third quarter of fiscal year 2001.

Ground Based Radar

Installation of a ground-based radar at Tres Equinas, Colombia is in progress. This radar, which will provide positive air control for the counternarcotics brigade helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft that operate in the region, was awarded in the first quarter of fiscal year 2001. The Tres Esquinas radar will improve the detection and monitoring of smuggling air activity in the Putumayo region of Colombia, where over 70% of Colombia’s coca cultivation occurs. The program utilizes an existing TPS-70 owned by DoD, and includes costs associated with installing the radar at Tres Esquinas. The radar site is scheduled to be operational in February of 2002.

Radar Command and Control

The DoD supported radar command and control program will provide Colombia a modern and operationally effective system, located in Bogota, which will be capable of monitoring multiple radar sites throughout Colombia. It will support positive control of Colombian Air Force air interdiction operations throughout Colombia. The current system is outmoded and needs to be replaced. The contract will be awarded in March of 2001 with completion expected in the first quarter of fiscal year 2002.

Andean Ridge Intelligence Collection

This ongoing program supports Colombia with critical intelligence against drug smuggling activities. It provides for collection sites located in critical areas throughout the drug cultivation and trafficking regions.

Colombian Ground Interdiction

The Colombian ground interdiction program is still in the development stage. Supplemental funding will be used to initiate a Colombian program to control drug smuggling on the major roads across the Andes and those roads feeding the northern coast and western coast cocaine transshipment regions. This funding will start the process of Colombia regaining control of its major roads, which currently are routinely utilized by the drug trafficking forces. Road control is important since it can help control cocaine and precursor chemical smuggling across the Andes and to/from major ports. There are 4 or 5 major roads across the Andes and these highways feed the road network located west of the Andes. Vehicle traffic on the highways west of the Andes serves as the principal mode of moving chemicals and cocaine to/from the northern coast and western coast cocaine ports and transshipment regions.

Armed Forces Human Rights and Legal Reform / Army Judge Advocate General School

Although these are State Department programs, State has asked DoD to execute these programs. U.S. Southern Command, on behalf of DoD, is working with the Director of the Colombian Military Justice System to help the Colombian military develop and field a military justice program, including a Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps. DoD has received a list of Colombian requirements and is in the process of validating those requirements against the developing doctrine and structure. Once the requirements are validated, the necessary equipment purchases will be made to establish a JAG school and establish the facilities necessary to conduct effective investigations, prosecutions, and court proceedings. This program will significantly enhance Colombia’s ability to try military offenders.

I would like to reiterate one last item with respect to DoD personnel in Colombia. The Department has maintained the numerous restrictions, constraints, and reviews that are involved in the approval of the deployment of US military personnel on counterdrug missions in Colombia. It suffices to say, the process remains comprehensive, involving reviews by the Embassy in Bogota and US Southern Command in Miami as well as the Joint Staff and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. I personally look not only at who is deploying and what they are doing, but at the specific locations to which they are going. Furthermore, each and every deployment order states, in no uncertain terms, that DoD personnel are not to accompany host nation personnel on operational missions. We continue to aggressively work to minimize the risk to our personnel who support our counterdrug assistance in Colombia, and elsewhere.

In summary, the DoD continues to work with our interagency partners to effectively implement U.S. Government support for Plan Colombia. Execution will be a challenge and it will take some time before measurable results are achieved. Setbacks can be expected and continued vigilance will be required. However, real progress has been made. The CNP, with Colombian military assistance, has commenced eradication operations in regions of southern Colombia that were previously inaccessible for counterdrug operations. As ongoing programs mature, this reach capability will be further enhanced, having a greater impact on the cultivation and production of cocaine and heroin in Colombia, thereby ultimately reducing the amount of those drugs available for consumption on our streets.