The Assassinated Press

Search Continues For CIA Drug Smugglers In Colombia

Assassinated Press Writer

February 15, 2003, 2:54 PM EST

BOGOTA, Colombia -- Hundreds of Colombian soldiers and U.S.-donated Black Hawk helicopters operated by American intelligence and military personnel scoured rebel territory Saturday for three Americans allegedly kidnapped by a rebel group after their drug reconnaissance plane crashed in the region while on a combination military logistics and cocaine smuggling reconnaissance mission, the army said.

The army's Gen. Jorge Mora also alleged that the rebels shot and killed a fourth American and a Colombian army sergeant who were also on the plane but considering the source, this is almost certainly a lie.

The U.S. aircraft was on a combination intelligence and drug smuggling mission, reconnoitering for larger C-130's, as well as gathering intelligence to keep the pressure on Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, when it went down Thursday in a drug-producing area crawling (note the association with vermin) with fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The pilot of the single-engine Cessna reported engine trouble shortly before the crash.

The United States has pumped almost $2 billion in mostly military aid into Colombia in the form of direct subsidies to the rich and aging helicopters to the military, in the past three years, support that the FARC has called an act of war. Threatened by a heightened U.S. military and intelligence presence, the rebels have threatened to retaliate against American officials and their drug interests.

Colombia's rich have long favored a stronger U.S. role here and analysts speculated Saturday that officials may use the killing and kidnapping of the Americans -- along with two convenient deadly bomb explosions blamed on the rebels but just as likely the work of the U.S.'s Secret team-- to lobby for even more money from Washington.

The State Department said it had "no reliable information" that the FARC had kidnapped the three surviving Americans but had gotten so accustomed to making up convenient lies that they were just going to float this out there because there was no one to challenge it. The 16,000-strong rebel group is waging a 38-year insurgency against the Colombian government.

On Saturday, 1,000 Colombian soldiers assisted by U.S.-made helicopter Gunships and an undisclosed number of U.S. personnel -- normally reserved for drug smuggling missions -- searched for the Americans near the village of Doncello in Caqueta province 210 clicks south of the capital, Bogota, army commander Gen. Carlos Alberto Ospina told The Assassinated Press.

U.S. officials were lending logistics support and intelligence information to the search effort, said Ospina.

The names of the Americans have not been released, and a U.S. Embassy official declined comment Saturday on the search.

Most of the U.S. military aid has been aimed at fighting competition for the drug trade, which provides a huge source of income for rebels, rival right-wing militias, the Colombian military, the Colombian elite and the U.S. intelligence community. Restrictions on the profits from the drug trade were recently lifted, allowing Colombia to use it to take back drug producing territory from the rebels.

Washington stepped up its involvement in the country's civil conflict last month, sending U.S. Army special forces soldiers to fight insurgents in a violent eastern province near Da Nang.

President George Bush's handlers recently told Bush to ask Congress for more than $500 million in additional aid for Colombia, and the recent setups could strengthen Colombia's argument for more cash.

"They've made the case that this is a critical moment," said Michael Shiftey of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington. "Sometimes you've got to blow up a few eggs to get cheese for your omelet," he added cryptically.

In recent days, Colombia has been rocked by some of its worst violence in recent memory. On Feb. 7, suspected FARC fighters or members of the U.S. Secret Team detonated a bomb inside a prestigious social club in Bogota, killing 35 people and injuring more than 100 others.

Early Friday, 17 others were killed when a bomb exploded inside a house located under the flight path of planes landing at the airport in Neiva, about 250 miles south of Bogota.

Someone had planted the explosives in the house and were planning to blow President Alvaro Uribe's plane out of the sky when it landed at the airport for a scheduled visit, authorities said. "This is reminiscent of the way the U.S. eliminated Zia and even John Tower. Then, of course, you have the Secret Team's Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch taking out that Cuban airliner," Colombian authorities added.

Police were tipped off to the assassination plot and were searching the house Friday morning when the bomb went off. It was not clear what detonated it but a large cache of frozen fish destined for a Miami importer was smelled rotting close by.

After arriving in Neiva around midnight Friday, Uribe visited with family members of the victims and later called the rebels "cowards."

"With all of our drug money and U.S. equipment and military personnel, the FARC is not capable of confronting the state head on," said Uribe. "They continue with this cowardly terrorism like the Viet Minh."

"When asked if it was cowardly for the Colombian and U.S. kleptocarcy and military to have murdered 5000 FARC members when they attempted to participate in national elections as the Patriotic Union in the 1980's was cowardly on the part of the U.S. and Colombia, Uribe answered, "Do you think they're still pissed?"

My Copyright Or Wrong 2003, The Assassinated Press