Washington, D.C.:Seventy-five retired or former veterans have written the Drug Czar, General Barry McCaffrey (Ret.), urging reconsideration of the escalation of US military involvement in the Colombian civil war.
The letter was signed by veterans from every branch of the services and from every US war since World War II. It includes two colonels, one commander, 8 lieutenant colonels, 7 lieutenant commanders, 6 majors, 4 captains, 10 lieutenants and 37 enlisted veterans. The letter emphasizes the inadequate military planning of the drug war escalation stating:
"Entering the Colombian civil war would once again involve US military personnel in a civil war against a well armed, well financed and motivated indigenous army that blends easily with the surrounding population. The Andes jungle plateau is several times larger than South Vietnam which we were, for ten years, unable to control effectively with 500,000 armed American combatants, hundreds of helicopters and total air superiority, compared to the handful of 'advisors' and less than a hundred helicopters in Colombia. The planning is painfully unrealistic."
Further the letter noted the lack of clear goals, the inadequate definition of victory, the inability to differentiate between rebels and drug traffickers, the lack of an exit strategy and no consideration of whether a long-term occupying force will be needed to prevent poppy and coca cultivation.
In addition, they pointed out that escalation of US military involvement will derail the peace process and result in more drugs being available in the US. The letter urged emphasis on demand reduction within the US rather than militarism abroad.
Lieutenant Commander Sylvester Salcedo (USNR, Ret.), one of the organizers of the letter who returned a medal to President Clinton to protest the Colombian escalation, noted: "The US is embarking on a very dangerous course that will trap us in a foreign entanglement due to fundamental miscalculations being made by advocates of the drug war." Lt. Cmdr. Salcedo served as an intelligence officer for the Navy on drug enforcement operations.
Another organizer of the letter, Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Dowd (USAF, Ret.), who is the author of "The Enemy is Us", an analysis of drug policy, noted: "The path we are going repeats the mistakes of past interdiction and eradication programs. For the last 35 years such efforts have resulted in more drugs, new source countries, new trafficking routes and new drugs." He expressed concern that "the Colombian anti-cocaine effort is likely to spur the methamphetamine market within the US and make our drug problems worse."
The signers of the letter have asked General McCaffrey to meet with them to begin a dialogue that will develop more effective approaches to reducing drug problems and controlling the drug market.