Vets to McCaffrey: Military Emphasis is Wrong


Following are excerpts from a news report by Narconews ( introducing the letter written by 75 retired veterans to the Drug Czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey (Ret.), urging reconsideration of the escalation of US military involvement in the Colombian civil war.


Washington, D.C., April 25, 2000: The letter by the 75 military veterans noted the lack of clear goals behind the Colombia aid package, the inadequate definition of victory, the inability to differentiate between rebels and drug traffickers, the lack of an exit strategy and the fact that the aid package punts on the question of whether a long-term occupying force will be needed to prevent poppy and coca cultivation.

The letter was signed by veterans from every branch of the services and from every US war since World War II. It includes 2 colonels, 1 commander, 8 lieutenant colonels, 7 lieutenant commanders, 6 majors, 4 captains, 9 lieutenants and 38 enlisted veterans. Under the banner of Veterans for More Effective Drug Strategies, the group has published its own page on the internet at

In addition, they pointed out that escalation of US military involvement will derail the peace process and result in more drugs being available in the US. The letter urged emphasis on demand reduction within the US rather than militarism abroad. Lieutenant Commander Sylvester Salcedo (Ret.), one of the organizers of the letter who returned a medal to President Clinton to protest the Colombian escalation, noted: "The US is embarking on a very dangerous course that will trap us in a foreign entanglement due to fundamental miscalculations being made by advocates of the drug war." Lt. Cmdr. Salcedo served as an intelligence officer for the Navy on drug enforcement operations. The letter follows:


Dear General McCaffrey:

We are military veterans from a variety of backgrounds who join together in recognition that the anticipated escalation of U.S. military involvement in the four-decade-old Colombian civil war will do more harm than good. It is likely to derail the peace process in Colombia, entangle the United States in a military quagmire and make drugs more available to Americans. We are writing to you to respectfully request a meeting to discuss these matters and urge you to reconsider your advocacy for this military aid package.

To give you more of a perspective on our concerns:

1. Military analysis: There has been a lack of military analysis of the Colombian civil war. Entering the Colombian civil war would once again involve U.S. military personnel in a civil war against a well-armed, well-financed and motivated indigenous army that blends easily with the surrounding population. The Andes jungle plateau is several times larger than South Vietnam which we were, for ten years, unable to control effectively with 500,000 armed American combatants, hundreds of helicopters and total air superiority, compared to the handful of "advisors" and less than a hundred helicopters in Colombia. The planning is painfully unrealistic.

The normal questions of military engagement have not been asked: What is the goal of our military involvement? What would we consider victory? How many additional resources are we willing to provide to this civil war? How are the Colombian troops on the ground supposed to differentiate between drug traffickers and insurgents (since the US funding is not supposed to be used for counterinsurgency, doesn't this create confusion)? How will the US military avoid being labeled as a human rights violator by being closely associated with the Colombian military? What is the end game or exit strategy for this military entanglement? If we are successful would an occupying force be needed to ensure that cocaine and heroin trafficking does not resume? It seems that because we are calling our involvement "drug control" the discussion of military analysis has been ignored. The lack of a military review increases the chance of failure.

2. Peace process: Recently representatives of both sides of the Colombian civil war completed a European tour that greatly advanced the peace process. Representatives of the tour noted that progress toward peace was being made at a rapid pace. However, the one thing they said could derail movement toward settlement of the civil war was the massive increase in US military aid. Have you considered that our involvement may do more to prolong the civil war and undermine the movement toward a peaceful resolution of the issues between Colombians?

3. Drug control: We have closely examined the history of interdiction and eradication efforts over the last 35 years. The consistent result of these policies is to increase the drug supply in the US by encouraging new source countries, developing new trafficking routes and creating new drugs. Indeed, after spending $250 billion on drug control since 1980 the price of cocaine and heroin are one-fourth of what they were in 1981 and purity of both drugs is at record highs.

The inexpensive availability of high purity heroin and cocaine is causing severe health problems in the US with record high overdose deaths and emergency room mentions of drugs. Yet, 57 percent of those who need treatment are unable to get it. The RAND Corporation estimates that treatment is 10 times more cost effective than interdiction in reducing cocaine consumption. Wouldn't it make more sense to focus our resources on reducing demand rather than on military policies that while intended to reduce availability have consistently increased drug availability?

The Colombian drug policy is confused further because all sides of the conflict - including the ones we are allying with - have been tied to drug trafficking. Can you point to any successful interdiction or eradication program in the last three decades that has not resulted in new source countries, new trafficking routes or new drugs coming into the US market? Do you recognize that drug control efforts in Colombia are likely to spur production in other countries and increase the use of man made drugs (e.g., stimulate the marketing of methamphetamine)?

We believe it is important that there is an open discussion on these issues before we become entangled in another foreign military mission based on a "fundamental miscalculation" like the Vietnam War. A meeting between your office, us and our allies would be a first step toward such a dialogue. Thus far the discussion of this issue in the legislative process seems to be avoiding these important issues rather than reviewing and analyzing them.


For more information, contact the above web pages or: Lieutenant Commander Sylvester Salcedo, USNR (Ret.) at 142 Montague Street, 4R, Brooklyn, NY 11201, 718-643-3552 or


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