WASHINGTON — Moving to dispatch newly promised military equipment to Colombia, the Pentagon said Friday that it will deliver two cargo planes, eight attack jets and five helicopters to the beleaguered nation by early next week to use in its war against drug cartels.
The weekend airlift, the first wave in a $65-million anti-narcotics package President Bush offered to Colombia a week ago, is designed to provide vital mobility to Colombian troops staging raids on the cartel's cocaine-processing laboratories and other operations.
From 50 to 100 U.S. military advisers and technicians also will be deployed as part of the package, with at least 10 Panama-based soldiers already in place in Colombia, Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said.
Won't Join Operations
Williams said the U.S. personnel will not participate in operations or accompany Colombian personnel in their anti-narcotics raids. The United States "doesn't anticipate putting our personnel in exceptionally high-risk areas," he said.
The Pentagon spokesman said he does not know if the Americans will be carrying weapons. He said it remains "up in the air" whether any of the advisers will provide tactical training to Colombian troops.
Security for the personnel is to be provided by the Colombian government, the Pentagon said.
The narrow rules of engagement have frustrated White House officials, who had regarded the crackdown as a "golden opportunity" for U.S. forces to team up with Colombian troops in a concerted offensive against the cartel's trafficking bases, knowledgeable sources said.
However, Administration officials now accept that steadfast opposition by Colombian officials to direct U.S. military involvement will limit this country's role in the crackdown to the provision of expertise and materiel, the sources said.
Announcement of the delivery schedule followed initial agreement between the United States and Colombia about the major items to be included in the $65-million program, the Pentagon said.
Although the U.S. officials had expected to provide primarily helicopters, they agreed to alter the plan after being told that Colombia had a more urgent need for the C-130B cargo planes and A-37 attack jets, an official said.
The U.S. airlift is scheduled to begin arriving at undisclosed sites in Colombia on Sunday, when the two National Guard C-130Bs touch down after long-range flights from their current bases in Louisville, Ky., and Martinsburg, W. Va.
It will continue Monday with the arrival of eight A-37 attack jets from National Guard airfields in Illinois and Michigan and will conclude Tuesday with the dispatch of five Huey helicopters and a shipment of bulletproof vests aboard a C-5 cargo plane.
The helicopters were purchased previously by the Colombian government and are not considered part of the emergency assistance package.
It is unclear how much of the $65 million will be consumed by the weekend airlift. Pentagon spokesman Williams said no additional fixed-wing aircraft will be dispatched to Colombia, but more helicopters could be forthcoming.
"The equipment will be shipped in a sequence designed to allow the Colombian military to begin to use what we send them immediately," Williams said. The United States, he said, still intends to provide trucks, Jeeps, small boats, radios and individual weapons to the Colombian army.