U.S. Training Anti-Terrorist Squads Overseas, Newspaper Reports
WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. military and intelligence personnel are training anti-terrorist squads in foreign countries as part of a stepped up policy to combat terrorism, The Washington Post reported in Sunday editions.
The unpublicized program, which involves the Green Berets and the CIA, aims to help allied governments handle hostage-taking, plane hijackings and other terrorist incidents, the newspaper said.
The anti-terrorist units are patterned after the U.S. military’s elite Strike Force Delta, which carried out the unsuccessful 1980 mission to rescue American hostages in Iran, the Post said.
Quoting unidentified officials, the Post said training has been conducted in about a dozen countries, including Lebanon and Honduras.
Under the program, U.S. personnel have advised foreign governments when they were wrestling with terrorist incidents, the Post said.
The newspaper cited a Sudanese hostage incident and an airplane hijacking in Thailand as instances of U.S. assistance in crises.
The program is being kept secret, the Post quoted officials as saying, because individual countries may not want it known they are receiving such sensitive aid or believe publicity could tip off terrorists.
The Post said it is unclear when the anti-terrorist training began - possibly as long as 10 years ago. But the newspaper said the program has picked up under the Reagan administration.
The Post said Green Berets trained a 40-man Honduran squad called the Urban Operations Command. It said the U.S. troops posed as civilians, wore jeans and avoided other American military personnel stationed in Honduras.
Rep. Michael Barnes, D-Md., chairman of the House Western Hemisphere affairs subcommittee, was quoted as saying Congress should look into the Honduran training program, in light of the CIA’s role in the covert war by Honduras-based Nicaraguan rebels against the Sandinista government.
The anti-terrorist training program ″demonstrates a direct relationship between U.S. military activities in Honduras and those of the CIA. And it raises a serious question of whether there is other military involvement in other CIA operations″ in Honduras, Barnes said through a spokesman.
U.S. officials said the appropriate House and Senate committees were notified in advance of the anti-terrorist activities and that the operation was kept separate from CIA work on behalf of the Nicaraguan rebels, called contras.
″We trained their (Honduran) people to rescue hostages from buildings and hijacked planes,″ one U.S. government official told the Post. ″It has nothing to do with training the contras ... We’ve done this all over.″
Since the Honduran training program began in 1982, the Post said, the anti- terrorist squad there has been involved in a half-dozen incidents including the seizure of 80 prominent Honduran businessmen in a leftist group’s occupation of a Chamber of Commerce in San Pedro Sula, Honduras; the kidnapping and release of a member of a wealthy San Pedro Sula family; and an assault on a safe house in Tegucigalpa in which a guerilla sympathizer was killed.
Quoting an unnamed source, the Post said the training in Honduras included sniper shooting, shotgun firing, judo, safe house raids, scuba diving, clearing airplanes and combat intelligence techniques.