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US citizens end up in combat as drug eradication efforts come under question.

BOGOTA -- The US and Colombian governments have been trumpeting the latest accomplishments of the drug war, touting the huge numbers of acres of coca plants destroyed by aerial fumigation and the tepid response from leftist guerrillas who now are major players in the narcotics trade.

However, the public statements only tell half the story, and the truth is that much of the US-funded effort is not directed at the toughest parts of the problem. Colombian military officials recently temporarily halted aerial spraying of coca fields begun in December after announcing that the effort to spray 59,000 acres of coca fields in two years had been surpassed in just seven weeks. Army officers professed to be mystified as to why the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had not shot at the planes doing the spraying and said it proved the group was not as strong as had been believed. "We had expected tough fights when we went into these places. We thought they would shoot down our helicopters and planes. But the engagements have been routine," Colombian army Gen. Mario Montoya told wire services.

What Montoya certainly knew, but did not reveal, say sources, is that nearly all of the spraying has been over areas controlled by right-wing paramilitaries, not the FARC. These groups are not as well armed as the FARC.

A few days after Montoya's comments, however, US citizens apparently piloted helicopter gunships last weekend in a mission to rescue the crew of a helicopter shot down by the FARC. The pilots were US citizens paid by the US government but were not military personnel.

Other sorties over guerrilla-controlled territory have drawn significant fire. Another helicopter last weekend was hit by 15 rounds. The pilot was wounded, but managed to limp back to base. Two other fumigation flights were hit the same day when they flew over guerrilla territory.
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Publication:America's Insider
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:3COLO
Date:Feb 22, 2001
Words:312
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Next Article:Effort to modify drug certification process could benefit Mexico, cause frictions with Colombia.
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