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Thursday, 31 August, 2000, 09:40 GMT 10:40 UK
Analysis: Colombia prepares to tackle rebels
Colombian army carry body of a suspected guerrilla
US says it will not be entangled in Colombia's 'shooting war'
By Jeremy McDermott in Bogota

The US Government has promised that military aid to Colombia will be used to fight the drug barons, not fight the country's war against guerrillas.

President Bill Clinton told Colombian President Andres Pastrana that military aid does not signal intervention in Colombia and that there is no military solution to the country's problem.

The three US-trained and equipped anti-narcotics battalions, once operational, will total almost 3,000 men, with 60 US-supplied helicopters also coming as part of the package.

These forces are due to be deployed in Putumayo, the coca-growing heartland of Colombia and the stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).


Analysts predict that in two years, the situation is likely to be much the same

Their mission is to protect an aerial eradication programme and raid drug labs in the jungle.

However, 3,000 men and 60 helicopters sound a bit like overkill for such a simple task - except that it is not a simple task, because the war against drugs in Putumayo is synonymous with the war against guerrillas.

Putumayo is home to some 3,000 guerrillas of the Farc.

Numerical supremacy

The rebels have already made it clear they are not going to roll over and let the drug crops be fumigated and their territory taken over by the Colombian army.

Map of Colombia

So the Colombian state had two choices.

EIther they could avoid confrontation with the guerrillas, who protect many of the fields and drug labs, and therefore not fully complete their mission.

Or the could engage in a full-scale war in the southern jungles of Putumayo and drive the guerrillas out.

The latter is an almost impossible task, because Putumayo is perfect guerrilla territory, with thick jungle and high mountains.

Besides, military thinking states that numerical supremacy with a ratio of at least three to one is necessary for any chance of success.

Compromise

So the results will be yet another Colombian compromise.

Due to pressure to show results, there will be a series of high-profile operations which will destroy some labs and fumigate some fields.

But with the guerrillas still on the ground, new labs will be built and more jungles cleared for drug fields.

So analysts predict that in two years, the situation is likely to be much the same.

Drug supplies to the US will not have diminished, the guerrillas will not be weakened, and the 36-year civil conflict will still be raging.

See also:

29 Aug 00 | Americas
US commits to Colombia
08 Jun 00 | World
My story: The drug smuggler
26 Aug 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Glamour in the jungle
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