US considers Colombian rescue mission
By Jeremy McDermott, The Scotsman, 22 Feb 2003
AFTER the murder of a CIA operative and a Colombian intelligence official by guerrillas, the United States is considering a rescue
mission to free three other CIA contractors in rebel hands.
"They had shots to the back of the head that show they were assassinated in cold blood," said the US president, George Bush, in an interview with Telemundo Television.
"They [Colombian rebels] are ruthless killers and deserve to be treated as such. We are sharing intelligence and are co-ordinating the movements of troops in the jungle to try and rescue these three people."
The "ruthless killers" are the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the most powerful of Colombia's warring factions and long on the US terrorism list.
They acted quickly when a US government plane on an intelligence mission crash landed in the southern province of Caqueta, one of their strongholds. Two of the five tried to resist kidnapping by the rebels and were executed, according to witnesses. The remainder disappeared with their captives into the jungle.
"I don't think there's any question that this precipitous action by the FARC is going to meet with very strong retaliation," said Tom Davis, a member of a visiting congressional delegation.
The US ambassador to Colombia, Anne Patterson, has made a recommendation to Mr Bush on action to be taken. She refused to comment but another member of the congressional delegation, James
Moran, said it was "major and appropriate".
A massive search operation for the three men has been conducted, so far fruitlessly. Yesterday army helicopters flew over the area
dropping leaflets offering a £250,000 reward for information on the whereabouts of the missing Americans, a fortune in a country where most live on less than £100 a month.
But the FARC has eluded the best efforts of the security forces and will be keen to keep its prize hostages.
The US embassy has refused to comment officially on the role of the captured Americans, but sources said they were part of the Office of Regional Administration, believed to be a CIA front.
The FARC has long been looking for a way to pressure the US government over its involvement in the country's bloody 39-year civil conflict and has vowed to fight "Yankee imperialism".
Colombia is the third largest recipient of US military aid after Israel and Egypt, receiving more than £300 million a year, including training by 70 US special forces troops in the
front-line province of Arauca.
But under congressional restrictions the estimated 400 US troops in the country are forbidden, to engage in combat.
Still, military sources have indicated that special forces troops could be sent into the country under a different mandate
and effect a rescue.