National drug policy director William J. Bennett yesterday responded to critics who say more U.S. military aid for battling South American cocaine traffickers could entangle this country in a Vietnam-like war.

Increased law enforcement and military assistance for Colombia, Peru and Bolivia "is not an American invasion," Bennett said in a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"It is not an escalating military intervention," Bennett said. "But military assistance in all three of the Andean nations is necessary to achieve a level of security that law enforcement personnel alone cannot provide."

Bennett stressed that U.S. personnel will not participate in anti-drug operations.

"We will not do it for them. They must do it for themselves," Bennett said in response to growing expressions of concern by some lawmakers and others that stepped-up U.S. military assistance could involve American forces in guerrilla fighting.

"When we sent military trainers or {Drug Enforcement Administration} agents or State Department personnel to the Andean region, we expose them to certain risks," Bennett acknowledged. "But we need them there to give the governments a fighting chance and encourage them to take tough actions of their own."

Colombia, Peru and Bolivia are receiving $230 million worth of aid for anti-drug efforts. The Bush administration has proposed increasing that to $430 million next year.