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American Forces Press Service

Colombian Leaders See Nation Making Progress Against Terror

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BOGOTA, Colombia, Aug. 11, 2003 - The government of Colombia has turned the corner on the war against narcoterrorists, and the vice president sees the nation beginning a new phase.

In an interview, Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos said his country is at the beginning of changing the dynamics of the conflict. He said the military is moving "from being very defensive - just protecting places . to going more to the offensive."

He said the entire resources of the government are going after three rebel groups - the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the United Self-defense Groups of Colombia (AUC). "We are going after their money, their sources, going after their heads and going after their territory," Santos said.

"We are gaining control of their territory; that's where we are right now," he said.

U.S. Army Special Forces teams and contractors are training the Colombian military to go after the rebels. There have been notable successes, Santos said. Now Colombia must stay the course, and the United States must stay too.

"The big heads of the organizations will start coming down," he remarked. "We'll see them starting to look for new resources and making mistakes.

"We'll probably see a further increase in desertion (from the rebel groups), and we'll probably see more terrorism - big time terrorism," he continued. The Colombian government's success will lead the rebel groups to try more acts of terrorism. It's a "cheap way to try to change the dynamics of a situation," Santos said.

But there is still a long way to go, he noted. The object is to break the back of the resistance and negotiate from a position of strength rather than from weakness, the vice president said.

Santos said the government would welcome more American trainers, but understands the American sensitivities against sending more soldiers.

He said the Colombian military is transforming under pressure of war, and this is a difficult thing to do. He said President Alvaro Uribe is striving to overcome the "inertia" in the military to change the way it works.

"You don't change the army in one year," Santos said. "But they are changing. They are attacking and being more offensive and designing plans of attacking in areas that they never did, and they are getting into areas that they never used to, and they are staying there.

Santos stated there are 120,000 soldiers in the Colombian military and the country needs about 200,000 in total. He said the country also must double the size of the police force to the same number.

Santos said Colombia still needs the alliance with the United States. He said that if Congress and the administration see the successes in Colombia and figure all is right and cut the aid to the nation, that "it would be a huge, huge mistake."

He likened Colombia to a patient who was in a coma and is starting to come around. Colombia will have a "long, long recovery."

Santos said it is only a year that he and Uribe have been in office, and they are starting to turn things around. "You don't turn things around immediately," he said. "That takes time, especially when you are fighting an enemy as powerful as the FARC or the paramilitaries which have hundreds of millions of dollars from drugs."

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