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Colombia Does Not Have Resources to Defeat Rebels - 2002-03-05

A top U.S. military official said the Colombian government does not have the resources to defeat rebels and reestablish security in the country. The Bush administration would like Congress to lift restrictions on U.S. military aid to Colombia.

The acting commander of the U.S. Southern Command, Army Major General Gary Speer, offered his assessment to the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday. "The Colombian military and the Colombian police," he said, "lack the resources to fully reestablish a safe and secure environment throughout the countryside."

General Speer praised Colombian President Andres Pastrana's tough response last month to stepped up rebel attacks.

Mr. Pastrana broke off talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and began a campaign to reestablish state control over rebel-held territory.

The Bush administration is seeking to expand U.S. assistance to Colombia, and is calling on Congress to lift limits on military aid to that country.

Over the past two years, Congress has approved nearly two billion dollars in mostly military aid to Colombia but only for use in the anti-drug efforts. It also imposed tough human rights restrictions on the military.

But in recent weeks, Congress appears to be warming to the idea of expanding military aid to Columbia's fight against rebels.

Senator Jeff Sessions is a Republican from Alabama. He said, "I think we have to change our focus in Colombia. I never felt the focus solely on narcotics was a wise policy. I now believe President Pastrana has given peace every possible chance. He has now made a decision that I think we need to support, which is, he has to take back his country."

Even Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a long-time supporter of restrictions on military aid to Colombia, has called for a review of the policy.

General Speer told the Armed Services Committee he has already drafted recommendations on how the U.S. military could contribute to Colombia's counterinsurgency campaign if Congress ends the restrictions on military aid.