A quote was incorrectly attributed to Secretary of State George P. Shultz in yesterday's report on sending U.S. advisers to Honduras. Referring to the possibility that U.S. combat troops might be sent to the area, it said: "No, absolutely not; that's a foolish rumor; there is no change in policy. We will not, repeat not, Americanize the conflict there." The statement was made by White House deputy press secretary Larry Speakes.
The Reagan administration will send 100 U.S. military advisers to a new base in Honduras next month to train 2,400 troops from El Salvador in guerrilla warfare, Defense and State Department officials said yesterday.
The base, at Puerto Castilla on the Caribbean coast, officially will be under Honduran command, but its "austere, tent city" facilities and the training will be paid for out of U.S. military aid to El Salvador, the officials said.
An internal State Department document described the base as a "regional military training center" that would be "a long-term component of current U.S. strategic efforts to provide security to the region." Diplomatic sources also said discussions were continuing with the Honduran government about additional training bases and a possible site for electronic eavesdropping.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz, questioned by reporters en route to the Williamsburg economic summit, said the move does not foreshadow any intent to send U.S. combat troops.
"No, absolutely not; that's a foolish rumor; there is no change in policy," he said. "We will not, repeat not, Americanize the conflict there."
Shultz called the plan "a fairly straightforward proposition." Noting that Congress has limited U.S. advisers in El Salvador to 55, and that training Salvadorans in the United States is very expensive, he said the Honduran training site was the "most cost-effective and easiest way to do it."
He added that he didn't want to "get into another numbers game" on possible limits on the number of advisers.
Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said, according to an aide, "that if it's okay with the Honduran government, he has no objection." Other congressional reaction was less favorable, signaling the likelihood of heated debate when Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess.
The 100 U.S. trainers and support personnel will be in addition to 62 U.S. advisers already in Honduras, where U.S.-supported rebels fighting the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua are based. In the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, the military high command said the base would "strengthen the climate of stability" in the country.
Speaking on condition that they not be named, the U.S. Defense and State Department officials said the first six months of training would involve one "rapid response" battalion of 1,000 Salvadoran soldiers, which would then be deployed in crisis areas as needed, plus four light infantry units of 350 "cazadores," or hunters, which would be stationed in specific areas.
Their training will cost $7 million, including about $200,000 to upgrade the old airstrip at Puerto Castilla, the officials said. It will come out of $30 million already appropriated for fiscal 1983 U.S. military aid to El Salvador.
By contrast, the officials said, 525 Salvadoran officer cadets began training yesterday at Fort Bragg, N.C., at a cost of $5.5 million--about three times as much per person. Two other U.S.-trained rapid response units cost between $5 million and $6 million, they said.
"We think this is cost-effective and responsive to the concerns expressed in Congress," the State Department official said.
At least two members of Congress disagreed. Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.) noted that the Foreign Relations Committee had specified in a committee report, though not in law, that training of Salvadoran troops outside that country be done in the United States.
"That was stated to avoid embroiling other nations in the conflict . . . I am extremely disappointed that the administration has chosen to ignore this bipartisan advice. I think it's a mistake," she said.
Rep. Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.), a freshman member of the Foreign Affairs Committee who worried last month that training funds might be used in Honduras, said: "The war is being widened . . . the administration has taken two separate national conflicts and turned them into a regional war."
At a briefing, officials released a "background paper" that they said documents "far more than merely marginal assistance" from the Soviet bloc for leftist groups trying to set up "Cuban-style" governments throughout Central America. They also released two aerial photographs of what they said were four Soviet supply ships docked recently at the Nicaraguan port of Corinto, 70 miles northwest of Managua.
The 17-page report, which the officials acknowledged contains much previously released material, includes references for the first time to alleged Soviet bloc support for unnamed rebel groups in Costa Rica. The report said that a defector revealed that Cuba funded a leftist political party there and provided arms and training.