US sends troops to Colombia to fight booming cocaine trade

Andrea Jaramillo

The U.S. army is deploying a “company-sized” advisory team to Colombia to support counter-narcotics operations after cocaine production more than tripled in recent years.

The move marks the first time a so-called Security Force Assistance Brigade is sent to a country in Latin America, according to a statement from the U.S. Southern Command. A company typically contains between 60 and 200 troops.

The surge in Colombian cocaine output led to threats from U.S. President Donald Trump to cut the country off from aid and loans. Potential cocaine output fell 1.4% last year, after reaching a record of 900 tons in 2017, according to the annual report by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Residents in need of food attached pieces of red fabric to their windows to alert the City Hall employees delivering bags of free food to the needy, amid a lockdown to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus, in Bogota, Colombia, Wednesday, May 27, 2020.

“The intended audience for this training deployment is probably in Caracas,” said Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, which studies human rights in the region.

Trump said in April that he was sending more Navy vessels and Air Force planes in the Caribbean to ramp up pressure on drug cartels. The move was also seen as an attempt to increase pressure on the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, which the U.S. is openly trying to topple.

Earlier this year, the U.S. indicted Maduro on charges including drug trafficking while offering a $15 million reward for his arrest and conviction.

“In Colombia, the team will work with host units in areas designated by the Colombian government as priority areas’ where they will focus on logistics, services and intelligence capabilities,” Southern Command said in the statement.

The mission will last for several months, according to a separate joint statement from the U.S. Embassy and Colombia’s Defense Ministry.