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Narco News 2001

Report from Iquitos, Perú...

Ex-Navy Seals on

Pay-Per-Kill Mission

Plan Colombia's Mercenaries

By Peter Gorman

A Narco News Global Alert

February 19, 2001

IQUITOS, PERU: As we go to press, Colombia's President Andres Pastrana has just met for the first time since November with Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda, the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

It is possibly the last chance at the peace tables for the rebels before he unleashes his US-trained-and-armed jungle fighters on them, and follows four extensions to the peace-table-or-else ultimatum Pastrana set for early January. Some observing the ongoing civil war in that country view Pastrana's unwillingness to forego the peace process in favor of all out war as a sign of enlightened leadership.

Skeptics, however, see it more as a sign that his US-trained troops are not quite ready for action. In fact, before heading into war Pastrana has several pieces of his military puzzle to line up, a process that may take several more weeks, and if the skeptics are right, until those pieces are in place additional olive-branches-extending the already passed January 1 deadline for peace talks-will be offered to the FARC as a cover for preparing for battle.


Pastrana needed four things to occur before he could feel confident that a war with the FARC could be won in a decisive manner.

First, of the three battalions of hand-picked and US-vetted Colombian military troops to be trained by US-Special Forces personnel, only one has finished its training and is fully prepared for battle in the dense jungle of Southern Colombia, the FARC stronghold. The two additional batallions won't be ready for several more weeks, leaving Pastrana currently shorthanded in well-trained jungle troops.

Secondly, while the 46 armed-Blackhawk and Huey helicopters promised as part of Clinton's initial $1.3 billion dollar Plan Colombia have been delivered, Colombia has insufficient troops to fly them. So Pastrana, by stalling the commencement of hostilities against the FARC, is also buying time for US advisors to train Colombian chopper pilots.

A third element that Pastrana needed to have in place before going to war has recently been taken care of: Peru, which under former president Alberto Fujimori had refused to permit either the US or Colombian troops to use Peruvian military bases near the Colombian border (leading to the US-arranged coup of Fujimori; see The Narco News Bulletin, Jan 1, 2001), has changed its stance since new interim-president Valentin Paniagua has taken over Peru's reins. Paniagua, through his Interim Prime Minister Javier Perez de Cuellar, the former UN Secretary General, announced on January 16, that Peru has done an about face and will now back Plan Colombia in any way it can. Since then, the US has quietly begun moving advisors-and is preparing to move military equipment-to a base near the Putumayo river, the Peru-Colombia border adjacent to where the heaviest fighting is expected to take place.


There is one more piece to the puzzle that Pastrana needs in place before taking on the 17-20,000 strong FARC in the jungle turf they know so well: someone to clean up the mess and eliminate them as they flee.

That piece of the puzzle is also falling into place, though both the US and Colombia, along with now-complicit Peru, deny it. During the past two months, the Peruvian jungle city of Iquitos, the closest Peruvian city to southern Colombia with an international airport, has become the receiving point for several gunboats said to be part of the US-backed Peruvian "Riverine" Program.

That program is one in which the US provides boats and training to Peru's jungle military in order to help them better intercept coca base making its way through the Peruvian Amazon to the Colombian port of Leticia, just a five minute boat ride across the Amazon from Peruvian soil. But while the Riverine Program has been in place for several years, it is only during the past few weeks that those boats have begun to be moved from Peru's Amazon to the Putumayo.

The boats, as large as 38-feet with 4 guns, are equipped with cutting edge marine electronics, from radar to listening devices, and armed with anti-aircraft guns along with mounted machine guns. But unlike when they were genuinely used as part of the Riverine Program, they are no longer going to be manned by Peruvian forces but by teams of retired Navy SEALS, often considered the Pentagon's best stealth fighting force.

The retired SEAL teams-who have also been arriving in Iquitos during the past several weeks-have been brought in to ostensibly work the boats' complicated electronics devices and systems. In truth, their job will be to ply the Putumayo river and kill any FARC rebels-or anyone else for that matter-trying to retreat onto Peruvian soil.

They claim, quite openly to those in Iquitos, including this reporter, to have been hired by a company named Virginia Electronics. They say they earn their money per kill, and that since they are retired they are not bound by military codes.

A web search doesn't show the existence of a militarily-connected company called Virginia Electronics. There is, however, a Virginia Electronics Expo site which touts itself as being approved by the Department of Defense, deals in part with cutting edge marine-electronics technology and is sponsored by a who's-who list of military defense contractors.

This does not mean that it's the same company. Whether there is a genuine connection between the two or whether it is simply the invented name of the "company" that hired them is anyone's guess. Calls to the US Embassy in Lima, Peru produced only heated denials that "we would ever be involved in the use of mercenaries," and that "it's unimaginable that former Navy SEALS would ever be mercenaries" from someone who refused to give their name.

The legitimate US Special Forces troops working various programs out of Iquitos, however, affirm that the men are just who they say they are: mercenaries hired to kill retreating FARC troops who were culled for the black-bag-operation because of their SEAL backgrounds and the quality of their work in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central America and Africa.

Once Pastrana has all four of these military components in place-three US-trained battalions of specialized jungle fighters; chopper pilots to move the new Plan Colombia Blackhawks and Hueys; a jungle base in Peru near the planned region of battle to repair military equipment and bring in new supplies; and a team of killers waiting to pick-off those who try to escape through the back-door into Peru as the Colombians push them southward, there will probably be no more peace-talk deadline extensions. It will be simply war.

Covering The Unimaginable War