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Published: Tuesday, 3/30/2004

No more troops in Colombia

COLOMBIA President Alvaro Uribe's visit to Washington generated some progress in U.S.-Colombian efforts to reduce coca production, a key component in reducing illegal drug shipments to this country.

But the good news also came with a catch: Mr. Uribe's plea for a doubling of the congressionally mandated cap on the number of U.S. soldiers stationed there.

That level now stands at 400; authorized military personnel would increase to 800, with an additional 600 civilian contractors assigned as well, if Mr. Uribe gets his way.

The United States should just say no.

Colombia is the third largest recipient in the world of American aid, after Israel and Egypt, not counting Iraq and Afghanistan, receiving $10 million per week for a total so far of $2.5 billion in military training and equipment, including helicopters.

Coca production in Colombia is reported to have dropped for the past two years, showing a decline of an estimated 21 percent in 2003, according to the CIA.

That's certainly encouraging. The tricky part, however, is that Mr. Uribe's government in Colombia also uses American military aid provided for the narcotics program to combat insurgent forces of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

FARC is a movement that is a combination of Marxists and plain old bandits and drug dealers who have been fighting the Colombia government for 40 years now. Mr. Uribe's predecessor as president, Andres Pastrana, sought to end the conflict with FARC through negotiations.

That didn't work. Mr. Uribe, by contrast, with American military support, is seeking to end the rebellion by defeating FARC's forces. Deepening U.S. involvement in what is clearly a civil war in Colombia by sending more American soldiers does not make sense.

The Colombian civil war should be resolved by negotiations, not by what is certainly a bloody and probably unsuccessful effort by Mr. Uribe's government to end it by force.

The United States should not be using more of our soldiers - stretched thin already by the commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan - to try to settle by violence a long-standing internal war in a Latin American country.

If the administration favors Mr. Uribe's request for more U.S. troops, Congress should reject it firmly, rather than take America further down what in all likelihood would be a long and winding road without end.

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