U.S. envoy in Colombia visits U.S. Army trainers

U.S. Special Forces soldiers stand guard at the 18th Army Brigade headquarters in Arauca, on the northeastern border with Venezuela, during a visit by U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson on Friday.

(AP Photo)
Published: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 1:20 a.m.
ARAUCA, Colombia - U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson, guarded by U.S. special forces in a machine-gun mounted Humvee, came to one of Colombia's bloodiest war zones Friday to meet with U.S. commanders training Colombian troops.
The Humvee and elite U.S. soldiers toted assault rifles and a grenade launcher trailed Patterson as she rode in a bulletproof SUV from the airport to a sprawling Colombian army base outside the eastern town of Arauca.
Patterson told reporters 70 U.S. Army trainers had arrived in Arauca over the past few days, and that they would stay for about three months to train 6,500 Colombian soldiers to protect a key oil pipeline from attacks by rebels.
Some residents of Arauca, who have endured rebel car bombings and assassinations, said they were happy to see the Americans.
"They are welcome here," said a 40-year-old street vendor, who asked not to be named. "They have a lot of experience. There's a lot they can teach our soldiers during such a difficult time."
The deployment of the members of the 7th Special Forces Group, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., followed a decision by the Bush administration, with approval from Congress, that U.S. military assistance should be expanded into helping Colombia combat the rebels.
Previously, U.S. military aid and training was restricted largely to battling cocaine production, which rebels and rival paramilitary gunmen profit from, fueling the war.
The U.S. special forces in Arauca and in nearby areas of eastern Colombia are to train two Colombian army brigades that protect the Cano Limon pipeline, which carries oil for Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum across northern Colombia to a seaside depot, where it is loaded onto U.S.-bound tankers.
Colombia is the 10th-biggest supplier of oil to the United States; rebel sabotage of the Cano Limon pipeline has reduced its output.
Inside a Spanish colonial-style building that houses the Arauca base headquarters, Patterson met with Colombian and U.S. military commanders and civilian officials to discuss security, cooperation between civilian and military authorities, and the ecological effects of pipeline attacks, a Colombian army spokesman said.
Outside, a few U.S. soldiers, wearing camouflage uniforms, bulletproof vests and dark glasses, stood guard.
The ambassador then flew on an Occidental helicopter to the Cano Limon oil field, where she greeted 20 newly arrived American trainers. Travel by road is dangerous. In December, suspected rebels set off a bomb next to a bus carrying Cano Limon workers, killing two of them and injuring 11.
U.S. special forces already have trained a 2,000-member Colombian army counternarcotics brigade as part of almost $2 billion in mostly military aid the United States has given Colombia over the past three years.
Colombia's 39-year civil war pits the leftist rebels against the government and the right-wing paramilitary groups. About 3,500 people die in the fighting each year.
Washington has ruled out a direct combat role for U.S. troops in Colombia.

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