US aids Colombia with protection of oil pipelines

Oct 10, 2005 02:00 AM

by Jim Kouri

Oil rivals cocaine as one of Colombia's principal exports. The Cano Limon-Covenas oil pipeline transports almost 20 % of Colombia's oil production.
The pipeline originates in the Department of Arauca in northeast region of Colombia. It carries oil nearly 500 miles to the Caribbean port of Covenas. And it's the most vulnerable and desirable target in Colombia for terrorists.

With oil prices continuing to climb, oil production in South America becomes more important to American interests and the economy. The terrorists throughout the world know this. The Colombian pipeline has been a principal infrastructure target for terrorist attacks by Colombia's insurgent groups for many years.
During 2001, attacks on the pipeline cost the Colombian government an estimated $ 500 mm in lost revenues for the year. The United States agreed to assist Colombia in protecting the first 110 miles of the pipeline where most of the attacks were occurring.

Since fiscal year 2002, the United States has provided about $ 99 mm in equipment and training to the Colombian Army to minimize terrorist attacks along the first 110 miles of the Cano Limon-Covenas oil pipeline, mostly in the Arauca department. US Special Forces have provided training and equipment to about 1,600 Colombian Army soldiers who comprise the security forces for the pipeline.
However, the delivery of 10 helicopters purchased for the program was delayed -- arriving in mid-2005. Without the helicopters, the Colombian Army's ability to respond rapidly to pipeline attacks has been limited. In addition, some equipment, such as night vision goggles, has not arrived due to the long lead-time required to obtain these items because of US military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Despite the delays in equipment deliveries, the number of attacks on the Cano Limon-Covenas oil pipeline has declined and security in the area has improved. Also, the Colombian Army and Colombian National Police have improved relations with the civilian population and new oil exploration is occurring in the area due to the improved security.
But challenges to securing the pipeline remain. More attacks are occurring on the Cano Limon-Covenas oil pipeline outside the 110-mile long area originally addressed. Most of the Colombian Army stationed in these other areas has not received US training. In addition, the insurgents have attacked the electrical grid system that provides energy to the Cano Limon oil field. Without electricity, oil cannot be pumped.

Because the US funds provided for the program will be depleted by the end of September or beginning of October 2005, sustainability of the progress made is uncertain.
Colombia cannot fully operate and maintain the helicopters provided without continued US support; and due to US commitments in other parts of the world, US Special Forces will be reducing personnel in Colombia, which will limit future training.

Sources: National Security Institute, General Accounting Office, US Department of Defence, US Department of State.

Source: American Daily
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