Pace Says Colombia Model for Afghanistan

The Associated Press
Friday, January 19, 2007; 10:46 PM

BOGOTA, Colombia -- The United States' top military official said Friday that American-backed anti-drug and counterinsurgent operations in Colombia _ the world's largest producer of cocaine _ could serve as a template for Afghan efforts to fight drug production.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Colombia's campaign to "rid certain areas of terrorists," followed by relief and jobs programs for the poor, was a "good model for (Afghan) President Hamid Karzai to consider as he looks at how to reduce the amount of drug trafficking in his country."

Afghanistan has been plagued by skyrocketing heroin production. But critics say it would be a mistake for the country to duplicate Colombia's model, which they say has been ineffective.

Pace's comments, at the end of a two-day visit, were made in the presence of William Wood, who on Thursday was nominated by the White House to become its next ambassador in Afghanistan. Wood has served as U.S. ambassador to Bogota since 2003.

Pace also thanked the government of President Alvaro Uribe _ Washington's staunchest ally in Latin America _ for the way "he has reached out to Karzai and his government to provide experience and teams of experts" in combatting drugs.

Colombia, at the urging of the United States, has sent police and anti-drug experts to train Afghan police and advise Kabul. Afghanistan is the source of 90 percent of the world's opium production, although Colombia is the main supplier of heroin to the United States.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have financed their four-decade-old leftist insurgency through the drug trade, while in Afghanistan rising poppy production is blamed for fueling an increase in Taliban-led attacks against U.S. troops.

Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said Colombia "was more than willing to continue and increase" counter-narcotic cooperation with U.S., British and Afghan officials.

Since 2000, the U.S. government has provided Colombia with more than $700 million in annual military aid to chemically eradicate fields of coca _ the base ingredient of cocaine _ and train troops fighting the FARC. Another $125 million is devoted to humanitarian relief and programs to encourage poor farmers to switch to growing legal crops.

© 2007 The Associated Press