Combat Engineers To Go to Colombia
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Army is sending 150 combat engineers on a month-long mission to a remote area of Colombia to show support for a government besieged by cocaine cartels.
Elements of the 46th Engineering Battalion from Fort Rucker, Ala., will leave for Colombia immediately after Christmas and will stay in the country through January, a Pentagon spokesman said Saturday.
The operation, known as Exercise Fuertes Camino 94 South, will be conducted at location some 46 miles northwest of the city of Cali, home of one of Colombia’s most notorious drug cartels.
The troops are scheduled to arrive in Colombia three weeks after police shot and killed fugitive drug lord Pablo Escobar, who headed the Medellin drug cartel.
But Maj. Arnie Owens, a Pentagon spokesman, said the training exercise is not tied to efforts to stem drug trafficking.
″This is not a counter-drug mission at all,″ Owens said. ″The object of the exercise is to provide training opportunities for U.S. military units while demonstrating continued U.S. support for strengthening democracy in Colombia and assisting the people of Columbia,″ Owens said.
That will be accomplished, he said, ″by showing that the United States is willing to commit some of its resources to improving the lives of the people in that area.″
Owens said the engineering units and Colombian government personnel will first build access roads in the Colombian province of Valle del Cauca, then construct a medical clinic and a school.
He said the operation was approved by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and the government of Colombia. It will be supported by the U.S. Southern Command, based in Panama.
At Fort Rucker, Maj. Steve Eisenhart, a public affairs officer, said there is concern about the safety of the troops in a country that has been hit by repeated gang violence and assassinations.
But he said the operation is not being approached any differently than other such missions. He said that specific rules of engagement are confidential.