November 1, 2002
U.S. Commander Hails Colombia Troops
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 3:49 p.m. ET
Army Gen. James T. Hill's visit to a rehabilitation center for severely wounded soldiers was a stark reminder of the risks U.S. special forces could face in two months when they begin training Colombian troops in Arauca state, one of this South American nation's bloodiest war zones.
Hill praised the courage of the Colombian soldiers, some of who lost limbs in combat against leftist rebels and were confined to wheelchairs.
``You stand for good, and I am honored to be in your presence,'' Hill told the troops. ``My greatest single privilege was leading American soldiers just like you in combat in Vietnam. There are things worth dying for. There are things worth bleeding for. There are few people in the world who share that. We are brothers in blood.''
Colombia's armed forces commander, Gen. Jorge Enrique Mora, introduced Hill, saying: ``He knows what you have suffered.''
Afterward, Oscar Moreno, a 24-year-old soldier who lost his lower left leg to a land mine, said he was moved by Hill's comments.
``The United States is one of the countries that has given the most support to the Colombian army,'' said Moreno. ``They, too, are affected by this war.''
Hill, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, told reporters that under common rules of engagement, U.S. troops in Arauca would be able to fight back if fired upon.
``If attacked, they will defend themselves,'' he said.
Leftist rebels have recently stepped up attacks in Arauca's towns and grassy eastern plains. On Monday, they detonated a car bomb that killed two Colombian police officers.
At the start of next year, U.S. special forces will begin training two Colombian army brigades, which will be tasked with protecting an oil pipeline that carries oil for Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum across northern Colombia to a seaside oil depot.
The training marks a turn in Washington's Colombia policy, which had previously restricted military aid to mostly counterdrug operations. While Washington has ruled out a direct combat role for U.S. troops, the training and material assistance is being extended to Colombian counterinsurgency operations.
Colombia's war, now in its 38th year, is being waged by two leftist rebel armies against the military and police and a few outlawed right-wing paramilitary groups.