Powell Clarifies Drug War Strategy; Says No U.S. Troops for Colombia

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Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

U.S. military aid to Colombia will focus on the war against drugs and is not being expanded to take on leftist insurgency groups, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday.

The Bush administration policy toward the embattled Colombian government has come under new scrutiny as the president's new budget proposes nearly $100 million in new funds to help train Colombian units guarding a critical oil pipeline from rebel attacks.

The proposal, first reported Monday in The Washington Times, has raised alarms in Congress that the U.S. role, first conceived as helping contain Colombia's massive drug trade, has expanded to take on the armed rebels who provide a safe haven for the illicit drug industry.

"I think it's a close line," Mr. Powell said in testimony yesterday before the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations.

"I don't think the [new U.S. assistance] is quite counterinsurgency, to the extent that [the Colombian government] is not using this investment and new capability to go running into the jungles looking for the insurgents, but essentially to protect" the pipeline, Mr. Powell said.

But Mr. Powell faced a number of pointed questions on Colombia at the hearing.

Rep. Sonny Callahan, Alabama Republican, said he planned to submit a bill to rescind some of the $1.3 billion originally offered under the Clinton administration's "Plan Colombia."

He cited the failure of the European Union and the Colombian government itself to supplement the U.S. contribution with promised development and economic aid. …