Anti-drug package for Colombia stirs misgivings over U.S. role in civil war

Implications of assistance questioned by military

February 06, 2000|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration's $1.3 billion plan to help Colombia fight drug trafficking and leftist insurgents is meeting with skepticism from U.S. military and law-enforcement officials concerned that the United States could be dragged into a long and costly struggle that may have little impact on the drug trade.

The aid plan, which is to be presented in detail to Congress tomorrow, is intended to help stanch the booming production of cocaine and heroin in Colombia, strengthen the government and help it take control of a large part of its southern territory now dominated by the rebels.

Some senior defense officials are decidedly unenthusiastic about the U.S. military's growing role in the anti-drug effort and worried that it may be dragged deeper into the civil war that has ravaged Colombia for almost 40 years.

Many drug enforcement and Coast Guard officials are similarly concerned, officials said. While the aid package may help Colombia's army fight the guerrillas, they said, it does not reflect a coherent strategy to fight illegal drugs.

The White House drug policy chief, Barry R. McCaffrey, dismissed the skepticism, noting that some criticism came from agencies that tried unsuccessfully to win funding increases for their programs as part of the Colombia aid package.

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