oversight

Drug Control: Financial and Management Challenges Continue to Complicate Efforts to Reduce Illicit Drug Activities in Colombia

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-06-03.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                            United States General Accounting Office

GAO                         Testimony
                            Before the Caucus on International
                            Narcotics Control, U.S. Senate


For Release on Delivery
Expected at 9:30 a.m. EDT
Tuesday, June 3, 2003       DRUG CONTROL
                            Financial and Management
                            Challenges Continue to
                            Complicate Efforts to
                            Reduce Illicit Drug
                            Activities in Colombia
                            Statement of Jess T. Ford, Director
                            International Affairs and Trade




GAO-03-820T
                                                June 3, 2003


                                                DRUG CONTROL

                                                Financial and Management Challenges
Highlights of GAO-03-820T, testimony
before the Caucus on International
                                                Continue to Complicate Efforts to Reduce
Narcotics Control, U.S. Senate
                                                Illicit Drug Activities in Colombia


The United States has been                      In fiscal years 2000-03, the United States provided about $640 million in
providing assistance to Colombia                assistance to train and equip a Colombian Army counternarcotics brigade and
since the early 1970s to help reduce            supply the army with 72 helicopters and related support. Most of this assistance
illicit drugs. In 1999, the                     has been delivered and is being used for counternarcotics operations.
Colombian government introduced
Plan Colombiaa program that,                   In recent years, the Colombian National Police aerial eradication program has
among other things, proposed                    had mixed results. Since 1995, coca cultivation rose in every year until 2002 and
reducing illicit drug activities by             opium poppy cultivation remained relatively steady until 2001. But, for 2002, the
50 percent over 6 years. In fiscal              U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy reported that net coca cultivation in
years 2000-03 alone, the United                 Colombia decreased 15 percent and net opium poppy cultivation decreased
States provided more than                       25 percent—the second yearly decline in a row. U.S. officials attributed this
$2.5 billion in counternarcotics                success primarily to the Colombian government’s willingness to eradicate coca
assistance. Despite this aid,                   and poppy plants without restriction.
Colombia remains the world’s
leading producer and distributor of
                                                Although the U.S.-supported counternarcotics program in Colombia has recently
cocaine and a major source of the
                                                begun to achieve some of the results envisioned in Plan Colombia, Colombia and
heroin used in the United States.
                                                the United States must continue to deal with financial and management
This testimony discusses the status             challenges. Neither the Colombian Army nor the Colombian National Police can
of U.S. counternarcotics assistance             sustain ongoing counternarcotics programs without continued U.S. funding and
to the Colombian Army and for a                 contractor support for the foreseeable future. According to U.S. embassy
U.S.-supported Colombian police                 officials, these programs alone may cost up to $230 million per year, and future
aerial eradication program. It also             costs for some other programs have not been determined. Because of overall
addresses challenges Colombia and               poor economic conditions, the government of Colombia’s ability to contribute
the United States face in sustaining            more is limited, but the continuing violence from Colombia’s long-standing
these programs.                                 insurgency limits the government’s ability to institute economic, social, and
                                                political improvements. Moreover, Colombia faces continuing challenges
                                                associated with the need to ensure it complies with human rights standards and
                                                other requirements in order for U.S. assistance to continue. As GAO noted in
                                                2000, the total costs of the counternarcotics programs in Colombia were
                                                unknown. Nearly 3 years later, the Departments of State and Defense have still
                                                not developed estimates of future program costs, defined their future roles in
                                                Colombia, identified a proposed end state, or determined how they plan to
                                                achieve it.

                                                Net Hectares of Coca under Cultivation in Colombia, 1995-2002




www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-820T.

To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact Jess T. Ford at
(202) 512-4268 or FordJ@gao.gov.
              Mr. Chairman and Members of the Caucus:

              I am pleased to be here to discuss GAO’s work on U.S. counternarcotics
              assistance to Colombia. Today we will highlight the preliminary findings
              from our ongoing review of U.S. assistance to Colombia. Our draft report
              is with the responsible agencies for comment; we expect to issue a final
              report in mid-June. I will focus my comments on (1) the status of U.S.
              counternarcotics assistance to the Colombian Army in fiscal years 2000-03
              and how this assistance has been used, (2) what the U.S.-supported
              Colombian National Police aerial eradication program has accomplished
              in recent years, and (3) what challenges Colombia and the United States
              face in sustaining these programs.

              In 1999, the Colombian government introduced Plan Colombiaa
              $7.5 billion program that, among other things, proposed reducing the
              cultivation, processing, and distribution of illegal narcotics by 50 percent
              over 6 years.1 A key component of the Colombian-U.S. counternarcotics
              strategy was the creation of a Colombian Army 2,285-man
              counternarcotics brigade, for which the United States agreed to provide
              helicopters to help it move around southern Colombia to reduce cocaine
              production and trafficking. Closely allied with this objective was U.S.
              support for the Colombian National Police’s aerial eradication program to
              significantly reduce, if not eliminate, coca and opium poppy cultivation.2


              In fiscal years 2000-03, the United States provided about $640 million to
Summary       train and equip the Colombian Army counternarcotics brigade and supply
              the army with 72 helicopters and related training, maintenance, and
              operational support. Most of this assistance has been delivered and is
              being used for counternarcotics operations. However, some problems
              were encountered. For example,

          •   After a successful first year of operations, the brigade’s results dropped off
              in 2002. U.S. and Colombian officials attribute this, in part, to coca


              1
              For more information on U.S. assistance for Plan Colombia, see U.S. General Accounting
              Office, Drug Control: U.S. Assistance to Colombia Will Take Years to Produce Results,
              GAO-01-26 (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 17, 2000).
              2
               The leaves of the coca plant are the raw ingredient of cocaine, and opium poppy is used to
              produce heroin. The aerial eradication program involves spraying the coca and poppy
              plants from low-flying airplanes with an herbicide that attacks the root system and kills the
              plant.



              Page 1                                                                        GAO-03-820T
    growers and producers moving out of the brigade’s range in southern
    Colombia. In late 2002, with U.S. assistance, the Colombian Army
    reorganized the brigade and gave it authority to operate anywhere in the
    country. This change, according to U.S. embassy and Colombian Army
    officials, will improve the brigade’s ability to conduct operations against
    high-value, drug-trafficking targets, such as cocaine production
    laboratories and the leadership of insurgent groups involved in drug-
    trafficking activities. One of the brigade’s retrained battalions has been
    operating in Narino department since early May 2003.

•   Some initial impediments slowed the delivery and operational use of the
    helicopters. The start of entry-level helicopter pilot training was delayed 5
    months while the United States determined who would provide and fund
    the training. The delivery of 25 UH-II helicopters was delayed 5 months
    while the United States and Colombia decided what type of engine to use
    in the aircraft. U.S. funding for the brigade’s operations was slowed for a
    total of about 5 months in 2002 because the Department of State did not
    meet congressional deadlines for reporting on Colombia’s progress in
    addressing human rights violations.

    U.S. assistance to support the helicopters provided as part of Plan
    Colombia was originally planned to end in 2006 with the Colombian Army
    taking over the responsibilities of operating and maintaining the aircraft.
    However, U.S. embassy and Colombian officials stated that a continued
    level of U.S. assistance will be needed beyond this date because the army
    is not expected to have the personnel trained or the resources necessary.
    Although U.S. embassy officials stated that they have not officially
    estimated what this assistance level will be, they tentatively projected that
    it would cost between $100 million and $150 million a year to sustain
    ongoing counternarcotics programs. In addition, other recently initiated
    U.S. programs will require additional support.

    In recent years, the Colombian National Police aerial eradication program
    has had mixed results. Since 1995, net coca cultivation rose in every year
    until 2002 and net opium poppy cultivation remained between 6,100 to
    7,500 hectares. But in recent months, the Office of National Drug Control
    Policy reported that

•   net coca cultivation in Colombia decreased 15 percent in 2002, from
    169,800 hectares in 2001 to 144,450 hectares, and

•   net opium poppy cultivation in Colombia decreased 25 percent in 2002,
    from 6,500 hectares in 2001 to 4,900 hectares—the second yearly decline in
    a row.

    Page 2                                                           GAO-03-820T
    U.S. embassy officials attributed this recent success primarily to the
    current Colombian government’s willingness to spray coca and poppy
    plants without restriction in all areas of the country. However, since at
    least 1998, U.S. embassy officials have been concerned with the rising U.S.
    presence in Colombia and the associated costs of the aerial eradication
    program. At the time, the embassy began developing a 3-year plan to have
    the Colombian National Police assume control over the program; but, for
    various reasons, the police never agreed to the plan. Since then, contractor
    involvement and the associated costs have continued to rise, and the
    Colombian National Police are not yet able to assume more control of the
    aerial eradication program. In fiscal year 1998, U.S. embassy officials
    reported that the costs for the U.S. contractor, fuel, herbicide, and related
    support totaled $48.5 million. For fiscal year 2003, U.S. embassy officials
    estimated that the comparable costs totaled $86.3 million. Much of this
    increase occurred between fiscal years 2002 and 2003 to support the
    additional spray aircraft, multiple operating locations, and the anticipated
    continuation of spray operations throughout Colombia. According to U.S.
    embassy officials, these costs are expected to remain relatively constant
    for the next several years.

    Although the U.S.-supported counternarcotics program has recently
    shown some of the results envisioned when Plan Colombia was first
    introduced, Colombia and the United States continue to face financial and
    management challenges in sustaining programs in Colombia.

•   Colombia’s financial resources are limited. Neither the Colombian Army
    nor the Colombian National Police can sustain ongoing counternarcotics
    programs without continued U.S. funding and contractor support for the
    foreseeable future. According to U.S. embassy officials, ongoing programs
    alone may cost up to $230 million per year, and future costs for some other
    programs have not been determined.

•   Colombia also continues to face challenges associated with its political
    and economic instability fostered by its long-standing insurgency and, for
    U.S. assistance to continue, the need to ensure that (1) the military and
    police comply with human rights standards, (2) the aerial eradication
    program meets certain environmental conditions, and (3) alternative
    development is provided in areas subject to aerial eradication.

    Colombia is a longtime ally and significant trading partner of the United
    States and, therefore, its economic and political stability is important to
    the United States as well as the Andean region. Colombia’s long-standing
    insurgency and the insurgents’ links to the illicit drug trade complicate its


    Page 3                                                            GAO-03-820T
             efforts to tap its natural resources and make systemic economic reforms.
             Solving these problems is important to Colombia’s future stability. On the
             other hand, recent world events—from the global war on terrorism to the
             wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—have diverted scarce U.S. resources and
             made it paramount that the United States fully consider the resources
             committed to its overseas assistance programs. As we noted in 2000, the
             total costs of the counternarcotics programs in Colombia were unknown.
             Nearly 3 years later, the Departments of State and Defense have still not
             developed estimates of future program costs, defined their future roles in
             Colombia, identified a proposed end state, or determined how they plan to
             achieve it.


             The United States has provided assistance to help reduce illegal drug
Background   production and trafficking activities in Colombia since the 1970s. Yet,
             Colombia is still the world’s leading cocaine producer and distributor and
             a major source of the heroin used in the United States. According to State,
             Colombia provides 90 percent of the cocaine and about 40 percent of the
             heroin entering the United States. The Drug Enforcement Administration
             reports that several billion dollars flow into Colombia each year from the
             cocaine trade alone, and this vast amount of drug money has helped the
             country’s two largest insurgency groupsthe Revolutionary Armed Forces
             of Colombia and the National Liberation Armygain unprecedented
             economic, political, and social power and influence. The insurgents
             exercise some degree of control over 40 percent of Colombia’s territory
             east and south of the Andes where much of the coca is grown.

             In an effort to address the influx of cocaine and heroin from Colombia, the
             United States has funded a counternarcotics strategy in Colombia that
             includes programs for interdiction, eradication, and alternative
             development, which must be carefully coordinated to achieve mutually
             reinforcing results. Besides assistance for the Colombian Army
             counternarcotics brigade and the Colombian National Police aerial
             eradication program, the United States has supported Colombian efforts to
             interdict illicit-drug trafficking along rivers and in the air as well as
             alternative development, judicial sector reform, and internally displaced
             persons programs. The Departments of Defense and State have provided
             most of the funding and State, through its Bureau for International
             Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and Narcotics Affairs Section in
             the U.S. Embassy Bogotá, oversees the program. In fiscal years 2000
             through 2003, the United States provided more than $2.5 billion to
             Colombia for counternarcotics assistance. (See table 1.) For fiscal year
             2004, the administration has proposed an additional $700 million in aid.

             Page 4                                                         GAO-03-820T
                        Table 1: U.S. Counternarcotics Assistance to Colombia, Fiscal Years 2000-03

                        Dollars in millions
                                                                                 Fiscal years
                                                                                                                            2003b
                                                                            a
                        Agency                                      2000              2001             2002           (estimated)      Total
                        State                                      $774.9           $48.0              275.4               $452.0   $1,550.3
                        DOD                                         128.5           190.2              119.1                149.9     $587.7
                              c
                        USAID                                       123.5               0              104.5                151.0     $379.0
                        Total                                    $1,026.9          $238.2             $499.0               $752.9   $2,517.0
                        Source: Departments of Defense and State and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
                        a
                        Includes funds appropriated for Plan Colombia through the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations
                        Act, Fiscal Year 2000 (Division B of P.L. 106-246).
                        b
                         Includes $93 million in Foreign Military Financing funds appropriated in the Foreign Operations,
                        Export Financing, and Related Appropriations Act, 2003 (Division E, Title III of P.L. 108-7); $34 million
                        appropriated to State and $34 million appropriated to Defense in the Supplemental Appropriations Act
                        to Support Department of Defense Operations in Iraq for Fiscal Year 2003 (P.L. 108-11); and $37.1
                        million for Foreign Military Financing allotted from fiscal year 2003 supplemental appropriations.
                        c
                        In fiscal years 2000-03, State transferred $375 million to the U.S. Agency for International
                        Development for alternative development, judicial sector reform, and internally displaced persons
                        programs.


                        Following increased violence in Colombia during early 2002, the Congress
                        provided “expanded authority” for the use of U.S. assistance to Colombia,
                        which enabled the Colombian government to use the U.S.-trained and -
                        equipped counternarcotics brigade, U.S.–provided helicopters, and other
                        U.S. counternarcotics assistance to fight groups designated as terrorist
                        organizations as well as to fight drug trafficking. Similar authority was
                        provided for fiscal year 2003 and is being sought for fiscal year 2004.


                        U.S. assistance to the Colombian Army during fiscal years 2000-
Assistance to the       03$640 million for the counternarcotics brigade, 72 helicopters, and
Colombian Army Has      related supporthas, for the most part, been delivered and is being used
                        for counternarcotics operations. However, both the United States and the
Been Delivered, but     Colombian Army experienced some unanticipated problems that delayed
Problems Were           the operational use of the helicopters. In addition, U.S. support will be
                        needed for the foreseeable future to sustain operations.
Encountered

Status of the Brigade   The United States initially agreed to train and equip a Colombian Army
                        counternarcotics brigade of three battalions and a total of about 2,285
                        professional and conscripted soldiers. The United States provided the


                        Page 5                                                                                                  GAO-03-820T
                            counternarcotics brigade with about $45 million in training and
                            equipment—from weapons and ammunition to rations, uniforms, and
                            canteens. The brigade’s primary mission was to plan and conduct
                            interdiction operations against drug-trafficking activities, including
                            destroying illicit drug-producing facilities, and, when called upon, to
                            provide security in insurgent-controlled areas where aerial eradication
                            operations were planned. According to U.S. and Colombian officials, the
                            brigade was highly effective in 2001for example, it destroyed 25 cocaine
                            hydrochloride laboratories3but was less successful in 2002, when it
                            destroyed only 4 such labs. U.S. embassy officials stated that the brigade
                            became less effective because the insurgents moved their drug-producing
                            activities, such as the laboratories, beyond the brigade’s reach. In addition,
                            according to these officials, the brigade became more involved in
                            protecting infrastructure, such as bridges and power stations, and
                            performing base security. Moreover, the aerial eradication program did not
                            call on the brigade to provide ground security on very many occasions,
                            essentially planning spray missions in the less threatening areas.

                            In August 2002, U.S. embassy and Colombian military officials agreed to
                            restructure the brigade to make it a rapid reaction force capable of making
                            quick, tactical strikes on a few days’ notice. As part of this restructuring,
                            the Colombian Army designated the brigade a national asset capable of
                            operating anywhere in Colombia rather than just in its prior area of
                            responsibility in southern Colombia. The newly restructured brigade
                            consists of three combat battalions and a support battalion with a total of
                            about 1,900 soldiers, all of whom are professional. Two of the combat
                            battalions have been retrained. The third combat battalion should be
                            retrained by mid-June 2003. This change, according to U.S. embassy and
                            Colombian Army officials, will improve the brigade’s ability to conduct
                            operations against high-value, drug-trafficking targets, such as laboratories
                            containing cocaine and the leadership of insurgent groups involved in
                            drug-trafficking activities. One of the retrained battalions has been
                            operating in Narino department since early May 2003.


Status of the Helicopters   A key component of U.S. assistance for Plan Colombia was enhancing the
                            brigade’s air mobility. To do this, the United States provided the




                            3
                             The laboratories are used in the final stages of processing coca into cocaine and are
                            considered high-value targets.



                            Page 6                                                                        GAO-03-820T
                              Colombian Army with 33 UH-1N helicopters, 14 UH-60 Black Hawk
                              helicopters, and 25 UH-II helicopters.4

                          •   The 33 UH-1N helicopters were supposed to serve as interim aircraft until
                              the UH-60 and UH-II helicopters funded under Plan Colombia were
                              delivered. The UH-1Ns were delivered in stages between November 1999
                              and March 2001. Since flying their first mission in December 2000, the
                              helicopters have logged 19,500 hours in combat and have supported more
                              than 430 counternarcotics brigade operations. Colombian Army personnel
                              are qualified as pilots and mechanics, but many of the experienced pilots
                              and mechanics who operate and maintain the aircraft are provided
                              through a U.S. contractor.

                          •   The UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were delivered between July and
                              December 2001 but did not begin support operations for the brigade until
                              November 2002 because of a shortage of fully qualified Colombian Army
                              pilots. Forty-two Colombian Army personnel have completed the
                              minimum UH-60 pilot training, of which 13 have qualified as pilot-in-
                              command. U.S.-funded contract pilots fill in as pilots-in-command. In
                              addition, a U.S.-funded contractor continues to maintain the helicopters
                              and provide maintenance training.

                          •   State procured 25 UH-II helicopters under Plan Colombia and planned to
                              deliver them to the Colombian Army between November 2001 and June
                              2002. However, they were delivered between March and November 2002
                              instead because the Colombian military was considering whether to use a
                              more powerful engine in the helicopters than the one usually installed.
                              Ultimately it decided to use the more common engine. According to NAS
                              officials, although some of the UH-II helicopters are being used for
                              missions, all the helicopters will not be operational until June 2003. As of
                              January 2003, 25 Colombian Army pilots had completed their initial
                              training and 21 of these pilots are completing the training needed to
                              qualify for operational missions. However, contractor pilots continue to
                              supplement Colombian Army pilots and a U.S.-funded contractor
                              continues to provide maintenance support.


Problems with Pilot and       Although all the U.S.-provided helicopters are in Colombia, a number of
Mechanic Training             unanticipated problems in training Colombian Army pilots and mechanics



                              4
                              Of the 33 UH-1Ns, 28 remain available for use by the brigade; 1 crashed on a mission and 4
                              were transferred to support the aerial eradication program.



                              Page 7                                                                      GAO-03-820T
    to operate and maintain the helicopters were encountered. Some of these
    problems continue to limit the Colombian Army’s ability to operate and
    maintain the aircraft. Primarily, the Colombian Army will have to continue
    to rely on contractor support because it will not have enough trained
    pilots-in-command and senior mechanics for the foreseeable future.

•   When the United States agreed to provide the UH-60 and UH-II helicopters
    for the Colombian Army in July 2000, the assistance for Plan Colombia did
    not include any funds to train the Colombian pilots and mechanics needed
    to operate and maintain the helicopters. About 6 months after passage of
    U.S. assistance for Plan Colombia, Defense agreed to provide the training
    and reported that it would transfer up to $20 million from other
    counternarcotics projects in Colombia to pay for it.

•   A training plan was approved in mid-2001. Although the plan provided
    training for Colombian Army personnel to meet the minimum
    qualifications for a pilot and mechanic, it did not include the additional
    training necessary to fly missions in a unit or to become a senior
    mechanic. Basic training for 117 helicopter pilots—known as initial entry
    rotary wing training—began in November 2001 and is projected to be
    completed by December 2004. This training is intended to provide a pool
    or pipeline of pilots for more advanced training to fly specific helicopters.
    In addition, according to U.S. embassy officials, a new pilot takes an
    average of 2 to 3 years to progress to pilot-in-command.

•   According to U.S. embassy and contractor officials, 105 out of 159
    Colombian Army personnel have completed the basic UH-60 and UH-II
    maintenance training and are taking more advanced training to qualify as
    senior mechanics. These officials told us that the remaining 54 personnel
    will receive the contractor-provided basic training in the near future, but
    they did not know when it would begin. Moreover, these officials also told
    us that it typically takes 3 to 5 years for mechanics to gain the experience
    necessary to become fully qualified on specific helicopter systems, in
    particular the UH-60 Black Hawks.

•   The Colombian Army Aviation Battalion is responsible for providing
    helicopters and other aircraft and personnel for all Colombian Army
    missions with an aviation component, including counternarcotics and
    counterinsurgency operations throughout Colombia. Information provided
    by the Colombian Aviation Battalion shows that it is staffed at only 80
    percent of its required levels and that, over the past several years, it has
    received between 60 percent to 70 percent of its requested budget for
    logistics and maintenance. The Colombian military’s decision to continue
    using the UH-1N helicopters in addition to the UH-60 and UH-II helicopters


    Page 8                                                            GAO-03-820T
    will also make it more difficult for the Aviation Battalion to provide the
    numbers of personnel needed to operate and maintain the helicopters.
    State originally intended that the UH-1N helicopters would not be used
    after the UH-60 and UH-II helicopters were available to support
    operations.

•   According to bilateral agreements between Colombia and the United
    States, the Colombian Army must ensure that pilots and mechanics who
    receive U.S. training be assigned to positions using their training for a
    minimum of 2 years. This has not always been the case. For example,
    although 19 Colombian Army personnel were qualified to serve as pilots-
    in-command on UH-1N helicopters, only 1 pilot was assigned to serve in
    this position. The remaining pilots-in-command were provided by a U.S.
    contractor.

•   Of the funds appropriated for fiscal year 2002, $140 million was used to
    support Colombian Army counternarcotics efforts. Most of this amount
    was used for U.S.- provided helicopter operations and maintenance,
    logistical, and training support. However, not all the funding could be
    released until the Secretary of State certified, in two separate reports to
    appropriate congressional committees,5 that the Colombian military was
    making progress meeting certain human rights conditions. Because State
    was late in providing these reports, the U.S. embassy could not use this
    funding for operations and training on two occasions for a total of about
    5 months during 2002.6 These delays resulted in fewer counternarcotics
    operations and limited the training and experience Colombian Army pilots
    could obtain to qualify as pilots-in-command.




    5
     Section 567 of the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs
    Appropriations Act, 2002 (P.L. 107-115). Specifically, the act provided that not more than 60
    percent of the funds could be obligated until after the Secretary of State made a
    determination and certification that the Colombian military was (1) suspending members
    of the Colombian Armed Forces who have been creditably alleged to have committed gross
    violations of human rights, (2) cooperating with civilian prosecutors and investigators, and
    (3) severing links between the Armed Forces and paramilitary groups. In addition, the
    remaining 40 percent of the funds could be obligated only after June 1, 2002, and after the
    Secretary of State made a second determination and certification with respect to the same
    conditions.
    6
     According to U.S. embassy political section personnel, they encountered difficulties
    developing the information required to make the human rights determination and
    certification. The first report was issued on May 1, 2002—almost 2 months later than
    State’s target date. The second report was issued on September 9, 2002—almost 3 months
    later than State’s target date.



    Page 9                                                                        GAO-03-820T
Continued U.S. Support     U.S. assistance to support the helicopters provided as part of Plan
Needed to Sustain          Colombia was originally planned to end in 2006 with the Colombian Army
Operations                 taking over these responsibilities. However, U.S. embassy and Colombian
                           Army officials stated that a continued level of U.S. contractor presence
                           will be needed beyond this date because the Aviation Battalion is not
                           expected to have the personnel trained or the resources necessary.
                           Although the embassy officials stated that they have not officially
                           estimated what this assistance level will be, they tentatively projected that
                           it would cost between $100 million and $150 million annually to sustain
                           the U.S.-supported counternarcotics programs. Moreover, other recently
                           initiated U.S. programs will likely require U.S. assistance and contractor
                           support, but the long-term costs of sustaining such programs are not
                           known.


                           Since the early 1990s, State’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law
Colombia’s Aerial          Enforcement Affairs (through the U.S. Embassy’s Narcotics Affairs Section
Eradication Program        (NAS) and the Office of Aviation) has supported the Colombian National
                           Police’s efforts to significantly reduce, if not eliminate, the cultivation of
Has Had Mixed              coca and opium poppy. However, for the most part, the net hectares of
Results                    coca under cultivation in Colombia continued to rise until 2002, and the
                           net hectares of opium poppy under cultivation remained relatively steady
                           until 2001-02.7 In addition, the U.S. embassy has made little progress in
                           having the Colombian National Police assume more responsibility for the
                           aerial eradication program, which requires costly U.S. contractor
                           assistance to carry out.


Recent Progress in         As shown in figure 1, the number of hectares under coca cultivation rose
Reducing Net Cultivation   more than threefold from 1995 to 2001—from 50,900 hectares to 169,800
of Coca and Poppy          hectares—despite substantially increased eradication efforts.8 But in 2002,
                           the Office of Aviation estimated that the program eradicated 102,225



                           7
                            The estimates of net hectares of coca and opium poppy under cultivation are prepared
                           annually by the U.S. Director of Central Intelligence, Crime and Narcotics Center. See U.S.
                           General Accounting Office, Drug Control: Coca Cultivation and Eradication Estimates in
                           Colombia, GAO-03-319R (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 8, 2003).
                           8
                            The number of hectares eradicated is provided by the Office of Aviation and is based on
                           the number of net hectares sprayed multiplied by an estimated “kill rate.” Although many
                           thousands of hectares of coca and poppy are killed, coca and poppy farmers often replant
                           in the same or other areas, which helps explain why the number of hectares under
                           cultivation often does not decline.



                           Page 10                                                                     GAO-03-820T
hectares of coca—a record high. In March 2003, the Office of National
Drug Control Policy reported for the first time since before 1995 a net
reduction in coca cultivation in Colombia—from 169,800 hectares to
144,450 hectaresa 15 percent decline.

Figure 1: Net Hectares of Coca under Cultivation and Hectares Eradicated in
Colombia, 1995-2002




As shown in figure 2, the net hectares of opium poppy under cultivation
varied between 6,100 and 6,600 for the period 1995-98 but rose to 7,500
hectares in 1999 and 2000. In 2001, the net hectares of poppy estimated
under cultivation declined to 6,500 and, in 2002, further declined to 4,900—
nearly a 35 percent reduction in net cultivation over the past 2 years.




Page 11                                                              GAO-03-820T
    Figure 2: Net Hectares of Poppy under Cultivation and Hectares Eradicated in
    Colombia, 1995-2002




    U.S. embassy officials attributed the recent unprecedented reductions in
    both coca and poppy cultivation primarily to the current Colombian
    government’s willingness to allow the aerial eradication program to
    operate in all areas of the country. They also noted that

•   the number of spray aircraft had increased from 10 in July 2001 to 17 in
    January 2003;

•   recently acquired spray aircraft can carry up to twice the herbicide as the
    older aircraft; and

•   as of January 2003, aircraft were flying spray missions from three forward
    operating locations—a first for the program.

    The ability to keep an increased number of spray aircraft operating out of
    three bases was made possible, at least in part, because the U.S. embassy
    hired a contractor to work with the Colombian National Police to, among
    other things, help maintain their aircraft. As a result, the availability of
    police aircraft for the spray program increased. Moreover, in August 2002,
    the Colombian government allowed the police to return to a higher
    strength herbicide mixture that, according to embassy officials, improved
    the spray’s effectiveness.9 These officials project that the aerial eradication
    program can reduce the amount of coca and poppy cultivation to 30,000


    9
    In March 2002, the previous Colombian government reduced the strength of the spray
    mixture because of environmental concerns.



    Page 12                                                                  GAO-03-820T
                            hectares and 5,000 hectares, respectively, by 2005 or 2006, assuming the
                            police continue the current pace and can spray in all areas of Colombia.


Colombian National Police   As we reported in 2000,10 beginning in 1998, U.S. embassy officials became
Have Not Assumed Control    concerned with the rising U.S. presence in Colombia and the associated
over Aerial Eradication     costs of the aerial eradication program. At the time, the embassy began
                            developing a 3-year plan to have the Colombian National Police assume
Operations                  increased operational control over the program. But for various reasons,
                            the police did not agree to the plan. Since then, contractor involvement
                            and the associated costs have continued to rise and the Colombian
                            National Police are not yet able to assume more control of the aerial
                            eradication program.

                            As shown in table 2, in fiscal year 1998, the Office of Aviation reported that
                            the direct cost for a U.S. contractor providing aircraft maintenance and
                            logistical support and many of the pilots was $37.8 million. In addition,
                            NAS provided $10.7 million for fuel, herbicide, and related support, for a
                            total of $48.5 million. For fiscal year 2003, the comparable estimates for
                            contractor and NAS-provided support were $41.5 million and $44.8 million,
                            respectively, for a total of $86.3 million. Most of this increase occurred
                            between fiscal years 2002 and 2003 and is for the most part to support the
                            additional spray aircraft, multiple operating locations, and the anticipated
                            continuation of spray operations throughout Colombia. According to NAS
                            and Office of Aviation officials, these costs are expected to remain
                            relatively constant for the next several years.




                            10
                             GAO-01-26.



                            Page 13                                                          GAO-03-820T
Table 2: U.S. Support for the Aerial Eradication Program, Fiscal Years 1998-2004

 Dollars in millions
                                                                                                       Fiscal years
                                                                                                                                            2003          2004
 Cognizant office                                  1998                1999          2000               2001                   2002   (estimated)   (proposed)      Total
 Office of Aviation
                                                                                            a
                                                  $37.8            $36.8           $52.5               $38.0               $38.2           $41.5         $45.0    $289.8
 Narcotics Affairs Section
                                                                                                                                                b
                                                   10.7             14.1             20.9               11.1                17.6           44.8           44.2    $163.4
 Total                                            $48.5            $50.9            $73.4              $49.1               $55.8           $86.3         $89.2    $453.2

Source: U.S. Department of State, Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and the Office of Aviation.
                                                                   a
                                                                    Includes $20 million for additional spray aircraft.
                                                                   b
                                                                    In addition, NAS paid $38.8 million for a contractor to support the Colombian National Police Aviation
                                                                   Service. NAS could not readily identify the proportion of this contract that is related to aerial
                                                                   eradication. NAS officials stated that they expect this expenditure to continue for the next 2 years and
                                                                   possibly up to 4 years.


                                                                   The Colombian National Police do not provide funding per se for the aerial
                                                                   eradication program and, therefore, the value of its contributions is more
                                                                   difficult to quantify. In recent years, the police have provided helicopters
                                                                   and fixed-wing aircraft for spray mission support and the use of many of
                                                                   its facilities throughout Colombia. In addition, the police have about 3,600
                                                                   personnel assigned to counternarcotics missions and estimate that 84 are
                                                                   directly supporting the aerial eradication program.


U.S. Efforts to Improve                                            To help the Colombian National Police increase its capacity to assume
Police Capacity for Aerial                                         more responsibility for the aerial eradication program, NAS has initiated
Eradication                                                        several efforts.

                                                                   In February and March 2002, the Office of Aviation conducted an Aviation
                                                                   Resource Management Survey of the Colombian National Police Aviation
                                                                   Service. According to Office of Aviation officials, these surveys are
                                                                   intended to provide a stringent on-site assessment of flight operations
                                                                   from management and safety to logistics and maintenance. The survey
                                                                   team made a number of critical observations. For example,

                                                             •     The Aviation Service’s organizational structure, lines of authority, and
                                                                   levels of responsibility were not clear. Relying on an overly centralized
                                                                   command structure resulted in unnecessary delays and the cancellation of
                                                                   some planned aerial eradication missions because the commanding
                                                                   general could not be reached.


                                                                   Page 14                                                                                   GAO-03-820T
                      •   The Aviation Service did not have a formal flying hour program to help
                          forecast its budgetary requirements and enhance maintenance scheduling.

                      •   About 35 percent of the maintenance staff were inexperienced. According
                          to the survey team, this could result in improper maintenance procedures
                          being performed, which could adversely affect flight safety and endanger
                          lives.

                      •   Management of items needing repair and control of spare parts were
                          deficient. The survey team found 230 items awaiting repair—some from
                          August 1998—and more than $4 million in UH-1H helicopter blades and
                          parts stored outside and unprotected.

                          As a result of the survey, in July 2002, a NAS contractor (a $38.8 million,
                          1-year contract with options for 4 additional years) began providing
                          on-the-job maintenance and logistical training to the Aviation Service and
                          helping the police address many of the issues raised by the Aviation
                          Resource Management Survey team. Embassy officials noted that a more
                          formal flying hour program has improved the availability rates of many of
                          the Aviation Service’s aircraft. For example, the availability rate of the
                          Aviation Service’s UH-II helicopters—often used to support aerial
                          eradication missions—increased from 67 percent in January 2002 to
                          87 percent in December 2002. According to these officials, improved
                          availability rates made it easier to schedule and conduct spray missions.

                          In addition, NAS has begun a program for training pilots to fly T-65 spray
                          planes and plans to start training for search and rescue personnel who
                          accompany the planes. U.S. officials stated that the contractor presence
                          should decline and the police should be able to take over more of the
                          eradication program by 2006, when NAS estimates that coca and poppy
                          cultivation will be reduced to “maintenance levels”—30,000 hectares and
                          5,000 hectares, respectively.


                          The U.S.-supported counternarcotics program in Colombia has recently
Financial and             begun to achieve some of the results envisioned in 1999-2000. However,
Management                Colombia and the United States must continue to deal with financial and
                          management challenges.
Challenges Continue
to Complicate Efforts •   Under the original concept of Plan Colombia, the Colombian government
                          had pledged $4 billion and called on the international community to
to Reduce Illicit Drug    provide $3.5 billion. Until recently, Colombia had not provided any
Activities                significant new funding for Plan Colombia and, according to U.S. embassy


                          Page 15                                                         GAO-03-820T
    and Colombian government officials, anticipated international assistance
    for Plan Colombia—apart from that provided by the United States—did
    not materialize as envisioned. But because of overall poor economic
    conditions, the government of Colombia’s ability to contribute more is
    limited.

•   The Colombian government has stated that ending the civil conflict is
    central to solving Colombia’s problems—from improving economic
    conditions to stemming illicit drug activities. A peaceful resolution to the
    long-standing insurgency would help stabilize the nation, speed economic
    recovery, help ensure the protection of human rights, and restore the
    authority and control of the Colombian government in the coca-growing
    regions. The continuing violence limits the government’s ability to institute
    economic, social, and political improvements.

•   For U.S. assistance to continue, Colombia faces continuing challenges
    associated with the need to ensure that the army and police comply with
    human rights standards, that the aerial eradication program meets certain
    environmental conditions, and that alternative development is provided in
    areas subject to aerial eradication.

    Overall, neither the Colombian Army nor the Colombian National Police
    can sustain ongoing counternarcotics programs without continued U.S.
    funding and contractor support for the foreseeable future. According to
    U.S. embassy officials, these programs alone may cost up to $230 million
    per year, and future costs for some recently initiated programs have not
    been determined. In addition, we note that this estimate does not include
    future funding needed for other U.S. programs in Colombia, including
    other aerial and ground interdiction efforts; the police Aviation Service’s
    U.S.-funded contractor; and alternative development, judicial sector
    reform, and internally displaced persons programs.

    In recent years, world events—from the global war on terrorism to the
    wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—have diverted scarce U.S. resources and
    made it paramount that the United States fully consider the resources
    committed to its overseas assistance programs. As we noted in 2000, the
    total costs of the counternarcotics programs in Colombia were unknown.
    Nearly 3 years later, the Departments of State and Defense have still not
    developed estimates of future program costs, defined their future roles in
    Colombia, identified a proposed end state, or determined how they plan to
    achieve it.




    Page 16                                                          GAO-03-820T
                  In conducting our work, we reviewed pertinent planning, implementation,
Scope and         and related documentation and met with cognizant U.S. officials at the
Methodology       Departments of State and Defense, Washington, D.C.; the U.S. Southern
                  Command headquarters, Miami, Florida; and the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá,
                  Colombia. In Colombia, we interviewed Colombian military, police, and
                  government officials and visited the Colombian Army bases at Larandia,
                  Tolemaida, and Tres Esquinas and other sites in the primary coca-growing
                  regions of Colombia. In addition, we observed a Colombian Army
                  counternarcotics brigade airlift operation and several aerial eradication
                  missions.

                  We also discussed this testimony with cognizant officials from State’s
                  Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and its
                  Office of Aviation and State’s Bureau for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
                  They generally concurred with our treatment of the issues presented.

                  We conducted our work between July 2002 and May 2003 in accordance
                  with generally accepted government auditing standards.


                  Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, this concludes my
                  prepared statement. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.


                  For future contacts regarding this testimony, please call Jess Ford at (202)
Contacts and      512-4268 or Albert H. Huntington, III, at (202) 512-4140. Individuals making
Acknowledgments   key contributions to this testimony included Jocelyn Cortese, Allen
                  Fleener, Ronald Hughes, Jose Pena, George Taylor, Kaya Taylor, and Janey
                  Cohen. Rick Barrett and Ernie Jackson provided technical assistance.




(320142)
                  Page 17                                                         GAO-03-820T
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