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Coming U.S. Aid Spurs Contras' Battle Plans

September 24, 1986|WILLIAM R. LONG | Times Staff Writer

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — With $100 million in U.S. aid soon to come their way, the rebels fighting Nicaragua's Sandinista government have sketched out an ambitious new timetable for war that they say will give them a decisive upper hand in the conflict within a year.

Most of the rebels, known as contras , are inactive now, holed up in camps in Honduran territory. Their spokesmen admit that they are unable to maintain a permanent military presence anywhere in Nicaragua.

"Our forces desperately await the arrival of the first shipments of American aid," said a recent broadcast by the contras' clandestine radio station.

The bill providing the $100 million in aid is stalled in the House and probably will not be approved until right before Congress adjourns in early October. The money will begin to flow soon after President Reagan signs the bill.

Mid-1987 Target

The contras' new timetable calls for full activation of rebel troops and an active presence in three-fourths of Nicaragua by the end of 1986. Then, according to the plan, contras' troop strength will begin increasing by 1,000 to 1,500 men a month. Rebel spokesmen say that with the aid, the growing guerrilla movement will be better armed and trained than ever.

Indalecio Rodriguez, a senior leader of the contras, said that by mid-1987, "we will be at our best level of effectiveness, activity and fighting capacity." He predicted that by October, 1987, unprecedented pressure from the guerrillas will force the Marxist-led Sandinista government either to negotiate for peace or to watch its power crumble away.

Some analysts say the contras are daydreaming.

"They don't have the capability of defeating the Sandinista army," one Honduran official said. "We believe that with the $100 million, nothing will be accomplished."

The official expressed no hope for ridding Honduras of the contra presence, which he said compromises this country's position under international law and jeopardizes Honduran-Nicaraguan peace.

"What is going to happen is that the contras are going to move into Nicaragua, and then they are going to come back out, compromising us even more," he said. "We are unable to foresee a solution, either negotiated or military."

Face Deadline

Another source who is well informed about the contras' problems said the rebels will be under pressure to begin making a strong showing on the battlefield within six months of receiving the $100 million.

"They are working against a deadline," the source said. "If they can't turn political and military support from the United States into success, then that support means nothing."

He predicted that if the contras do not show significant success within six months, they will lose their morale and Honduras "will start getting very concerned."

The source said the Honduran army might then begin to harass contras in Honduras, detaining their leaders, raiding their installations and taking other action against them.

He contended that the contras have grown "fat and lazy" this year because $27 million in "humanitarian aid" from the United States has provided them with food in their Honduran camps but no weapons or ammunition to fight with. The $27 million, approved by Congress last year, has run out in recent weeks, and analysts here say that even more contras have pulled back from Nicaragua because of supply shortages.

Honduras is the main base for the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, known by the Spanish initials FDN, which is by far the largest contra contingent. Rodriguez, one of the FDN's seven directors, said in an interview that only about 40% of that guerrilla organization's troops are currently active.

Resupplied by Year-End

He said the FDN's total troop strength, active and inactive, is 18,000 men, but other sources estimate it to be as low as 10,000. Other groups, including Indian guerrillas along the Caribbean coast, are believed to field a total of 2,000 to 3,000 more fighters.

According to Rodriguez, all contra forces will be resupplied and fully active by the end of this year, thanks to the new U.S. aid.

"This year we are going to be equipping the people we have and training the people we have," he said.

The package will provide $70 million in military supplies and training, and $30 million in other aid.

U.S. officials say they hope that the training will meet what they say are critical contra needs for better-prepared unit commanders and combat specialists. U.S. training for the contras now is prohibited by law.

Rodriguez said training under the new aid package will include courses on the use of shoulder-held missiles and other support weapons. Among support weapons to be supplied in the aid, he said, will be rocket-propelled grenade launchers, machine guns, mortars, light artillery and shoulder-held ground-to-air missiles.

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