Narco News 2001
By Peter Gorman
A Narco News Global Alert
February 19, 2001
IQUITOS, PERU: As we go
to press, Colombia's
President Andres Pastrana has just met for the first time since
November with Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda, the leader
of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
It is possibly the last
chance at the peace tables for the rebels before he unleashes
his US-trained-and-armed jungle fighters on them, and follows
four extensions to the peace-table-or-else ultimatum Pastrana
set for early January. Some observing the ongoing civil war in
that country view Pastrana's unwillingness to forego the peace
process in favor of all out war as a sign of enlightened leadership.
Skeptics, however, see
it more as a sign that his US-trained troops are not quite ready
for action. In fact, before heading into war Pastrana has several
pieces of his military puzzle to line up, a process that may
take several more weeks, and if the skeptics are right, until
those pieces are in place additional olive-branches-extending
the already passed January 1 deadline for peace talks-will be
offered to the FARC as a cover for preparing for battle.
FOR THE COMING WAR
Pastrana needed four things to occur before he
could feel confident that a war with the FARC could be won in
a decisive manner.
First, of the three battalions
of hand-picked and US-vetted Colombian military troops to be
trained by US-Special Forces personnel, only one has finished
its training and is fully prepared for battle in the dense jungle
of Southern Colombia, the FARC stronghold. The two additional
batallions won't be ready for several more weeks, leaving Pastrana
currently shorthanded in well-trained jungle troops.
Secondly, while the 46
armed-Blackhawk and Huey helicopters promised as part of Clinton's
initial $1.3 billion dollar Plan Colombia have been delivered,
Colombia has insufficient troops to fly them. So Pastrana, by
stalling the commencement of hostilities against the FARC, is
also buying time for US advisors to train Colombian chopper pilots.
A third element that Pastrana
needed to have in place before going to war has recently been
taken care of: Peru, which under former president Alberto Fujimori
had refused to permit either the US or Colombian troops to use
Peruvian military bases near the Colombian border (leading to
the US-arranged coup of Fujimori; see The Narco News Bulletin,
Jan 1, 2001), has changed its stance since new interim-president
Valentin Paniagua has taken over Peru's reins. Paniagua, through
his Interim Prime Minister Javier Perez de Cuellar, the former
UN Secretary General, announced on January 16, that Peru has
done an about face and will now back Plan Colombia in any way
it can. Since then, the US has quietly begun moving advisors-and
is preparing to move military equipment-to a base near the Putumayo
river, the Peru-Colombia border adjacent to where the heaviest
fighting is expected to take place.
LAST PIECE OF THE PUZZLE
There is one more piece
to the puzzle that
Pastrana needs in place before taking on the 17-20,000 strong
FARC in the jungle turf they know so well: someone to clean up
the mess and eliminate them as they flee.
That piece of the puzzle
is also falling into place, though both the US and Colombia,
along with now-complicit Peru, deny it. During the past two months,
the Peruvian jungle city of Iquitos, the closest Peruvian city
to southern Colombia with an international airport, has become
the receiving point for several gunboats said to be part of the
US-backed Peruvian "Riverine" Program.
That program is one in
which the US provides boats and training to Peru's jungle military
in order to help them better intercept coca base making its way
through the Peruvian Amazon to the Colombian port of Leticia,
just a five minute boat ride across the Amazon from Peruvian
soil. But while the Riverine Program has been in place for several
years, it is only during the past few weeks that those boats
have begun to be moved from Peru's Amazon to the Putumayo.
The boats, as large as
38-feet with 4 guns,
are equipped with cutting edge marine electronics, from radar
to listening devices, and armed with anti-aircraft guns along
with mounted machine guns. But unlike when they were genuinely
used as part of the Riverine Program, they are no longer going
to be manned by Peruvian forces but by teams of retired Navy
SEALS, often considered the Pentagon's best stealth fighting
The retired SEAL teams-who
have also been arriving in Iquitos during the past several weeks-have
been brought in to ostensibly work the boats' complicated electronics
devices and systems. In truth, their job will be to ply the Putumayo
river and kill any FARC rebels-or anyone else for that matter-trying
to retreat onto Peruvian soil.
They claim, quite openly
to those in Iquitos, including this reporter, to have been hired
by a company named Virginia Electronics. They say they earn their
money per kill, and that since they are retired they are not
bound by military codes.
A web search doesn't show
the existence of a militarily-connected company called Virginia
Electronics. There is, however, a Virginia Electronics Expo site
which touts itself as being approved by the Department of Defense,
deals in part with cutting edge marine-electronics technology
and is sponsored by a who's-who list of military defense contractors.
This does not mean that
it's the same company. Whether there is a genuine connection
between the two or whether it is simply the invented name of
the "company" that hired them is anyone's guess. Calls
to the US Embassy in Lima, Peru produced only heated denials
that "we would ever be involved in the use of mercenaries,"
and that "it's unimaginable that former Navy SEALS would
ever be mercenaries" from someone who refused to give their
The legitimate US Special
Forces troops working various programs out of Iquitos, however,
affirm that the men are just who they say they are: mercenaries
hired to kill retreating FARC troops who were culled for the
black-bag-operation because of their SEAL backgrounds and the
quality of their work in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central
America and Africa.
Once Pastrana has all
four of these military components in place-three US-trained battalions
of specialized jungle fighters; chopper pilots to move the new
Plan Colombia Blackhawks and Hueys; a jungle base in Peru near
the planned region of battle to repair military equipment and
bring in new supplies; and a team of killers waiting to pick-off
those who try to escape through the back-door into Peru as the
Colombians push them southward, there will probably be no more
peace-talk deadline extensions. It will be simply war.
Covering The Unimaginable