Major player in War on Drugs

7th Special Forces Group (ABN)
The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer Military Editor By Henry Cuningham 

Thursday, June 28, 2001   

The 7th Special Forces Group on Friday allowed a rare public look at its work in the drug war in Colombia.

‘‘I point with pride to the numerous counterdrug operations conducted in South America, especially in Colombia,’’ Col. Salvatore F. Cambria said to members of the group. ‘‘You made history by training the first three counternarcotics battalions, which today are engaged in combat in southern Colombia.’’

Cambria made his remarks as he turned over command of the group to Col. Peter J. Dillon in a ceremony at U.S. Army Special Operations Command headquarters at Fort Bragg.

Staff photo by Jay Premack
Col. Peter J. Dillon, left, receives the flag of 7th Special Forces Group from Brig. Gen. Frank J. Toney, commander of U.S. Army Special Forces. Dillon replaced Col. Salvatore F. Cambria, far right

Brig. Gen. Frank J. Toney Jr. praised Cambria for instilling a ‘‘warrior mentality’’ into the group that had once deployed unarmed into Latin America.

Special Forces soldiers now go into Latin America ‘‘with their full complement of weapons, from hand-to-hand combative skills all the way to crew-served weapons,’’ Toney said.

About 1,350 soldiers are in the group. The 7th Group’s Green Berets are mostly trained in the Spanish language and specialize in training foreign military and paramilitary forces.

U.S. officials say illicit drug traffic, especially in Colombia, is a threat to Latin America and a growing threat to the United States.

‘‘Last year, over 950 metric tons of cocaine entered the United States,’’ Cambria said. ‘‘More than 85 percent of those 950 metric tons is coming from Colombia.’’

From the spring of 1999 to the summer of 2001, the 7th Special Forces Group trained the 2,400-man Colombian counternarcotics brigade of the Colombian army under Plan Colombia, officials said. The brigade operates in southern Colombia, the principal region for coca production in the entire world. Special Forces soldiers trained Colombians in everything from individual soldier skills to how to run a brigade staff.

The Colombian soldiers “have killed more than 80 narcotraffickers, captured more than 250 traffickers, destroyed more than 220 targets which include drug labs, airstrips and trans-shipment sites. They have sprayed over 85,000 acres of coca cultivation,’’ Cambria said.

Some critics have said the U.S.-funded drug-crop eradication campaign includes ‘‘indiscriminate’’ herbicide spraying had wiped out food crops across southern Colombia.

The U.S.-trained Colombian forces have displaced base camps of the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, seized weapons and more than $750,000 U.S. dollars, Cambria said.

‘‘Your accomplishments throughout the Latin American region are numerous,’’ Cambria said. ‘‘None of this would be possible if not for the superb efforts provided by the support soldiers, the umbilical cord of this organization. You are remarkable men and women.’’

Special Forces soldiers deploy to Central America and South America to perform humanitarian assistance, train people to remove land mines from former war zones and train local security forces to combat drugs within their borders.

Over the past two years, the 7th Group has sent more than 1,600 people on 119 missions to more than 19 places in South America and Central America.

‘‘From Fort Bragg to Colombia to Venezuela to Peru to Ecuador to Bolivia to Nicaragua to Argentina, you have been instrumental in forging deeper bonds with the democracies of Latin America,’’ Cambria said.

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