Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
Q: I have a question on the article yesterday in the Post regarding Colombia. Can you explain to us exactly the JCET program and how does that apply to Colombia?
A: Sure. First of all, let me give you a broad overview of the JCET program. It is a fairly important program to train our special operations forces. JCET stands for Joint Combined Exchange Training. We conduct such training all around the world. In fiscal 1997 we conducted such training in 101 countries.
The fundamental requirement of this Joint Combined Exchange Training is that we derive greater benefits from it, the majority of the benefits from the training, as opposed to the host country. This is training that is designed to help our special operating forces improve their language facility. As you know, all special forces are supposed to be fluent in another language. It's to give them an opportunity to learn about the geography, topography of other nations, and to build up relationships with the military in other nations in case they're called upon to do hostage rescue operations or evacuations of American citizens or peacekeeping work or help training with forces of other nations.
So this is a program that has been going on for some time and it's a very extensive worldwide program and one that's fundamental to training for the special operations forces.
I should also point out that all JCET missions, as they're called, are reported to Congress every year, so there's nothing secret about this program. It's a program that is made very public to Congress every year.
In Colombia, we have had JCET programs going on for several years, but it's actually a relatively small part of our overall military involvement in Colombia. In the current fiscal year, which is fiscal 1998, we plan to have six JCET missions in Colombia involving 32 people -- a total of 32 people and six missions. That is dwarfed by our counter-narcotics program in Colombia which will involve 18 separate deployments involving 252 people in Colombia.
Now the counter-narcotics program is under another program. It's separate from the JCET program. In Colombia, we have worked on counter-terrorism training with Colombia forces and we've also worked on hostage rescue training with Colombian forces. I think anybody who's followed the kidnappings in Colombia recently can appreciate that hostage rescue training is something that is worth doing in Colombia and could be helpful to American citizens in that country.
The JCET training has been suspended temporarily during the current election campaigns in Colombia, but my anticipation is it will start again after the campaign is over.
Q: Do you have any mechanisms set-up to make sure that the soldiers you might be training was under the JCET program? In other words the Colombian soldiers have not been involved in the past with any type of human rights violations, which was seen to be some of the preoccupation, even of the Clinton Administration.
A: Yes we do. First of all, all of the JCET missions have to be approved by the Ambassador, so there is an in-country stamp and review of the programs. They're also all approved by the Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida. We are now creating a new approval level at the Office of the Secretary of Defense that will be done in the Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict area -- SOLIC, it's called.
In addition, we follow the State Department's human rights rules in designing these programs and picking the people who will participate in the programs, and also in selecting the curriculum for the programs. We make it very clear that it's important for military organizations to follow human rights rules and to follow the rule of law.
So we do make an effort to make sure that the training is limited in its scope, that it benefits American forces, and that we are working with people who are not, have not been involved in human rights abuses in the past.
Q: When was this new level of oversight instituted?
A: It's in the process of being instituted now. I'm not sure it's up and running but I think it will be in the next month or so.
Q: That will be then the Assistant Secretary for Special Operations will have to give his stamp as well?
Q: Talk about the number of trainers in Colombia, it's sort of a moving target that goes up and down and it's always hard to see a trend. Do you have a current number and is there a trend?
A: You mean the current number of people right there in Colombia? It does go up and down depending on what we're doing. It ranges generally from 175 to 275 at any given time, and the latest figure I have is for the end of March and it was for 216. I'll try to get a more updated figure.
Now a lot of these people actually run or maintain radar stations in Colombia. That's one of the main tasks of American officials.
Q: ... the assignment of this third level of oversight for the JCET programs? If you already have two, an ambassador signing off and the command in Florida signing off, why do you need a third?
A: Secretary Cohen felt that in light of the growing congressional interest in the program, and there has been increased congressional interest in the last several months, particularly related to Indonesia and now Colombia, that it was appropriate that he have somebody in his immediate office, in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, monitoring this program. It's no lack of confidence or lack of support for the Special Operations Command, it's just an effort to have a central clearinghouse right here in Washington to make it easier to get information about the program, to answer congressional questions, and easier for him to find out what's happening.
Q: When did he make it?
A: I said he made it, I would say two or three months ago. It might have been less. It should be up and running in the next month or so.
Q: A related question. What do you say to people on the Hill who say, when they try to clamp down on IMET or change IMET and you go to JCET as a way around it?
A: They're entirely separate programs. The JCET program is designed specifically to help us train our own special forces in ways that are valuable to us and valuable to people in other countries as well. This clearly is a program that foreign militaries find beneficial because they invited us to come in and do these programs in 101 countries in fiscal 1997. But, it's mainly something that helps our forces learn to do the jobs they may be called upon to do around the world.
Q: Could you address the broader point? When you listen to the critics of JCET in Indonesia and in other countries, the gist of the criticism -- it seems to be -- that having U.S. forces train with other forces gives some sort of endorsement, some sort of Washington approval to these forces, some of which later turn out to be involved, or are accused of being involved in unsavory activities. Does this carry some sort of message of approval from Washington of these units, or is that the perception?
A: We believe that this training is important for a number of reasons and the primary one is that it trains our forces to do jobs they may be called upon to do around the world. In addition, we think it is a way for our forces to work shoulder-to-shoulder in parachute training or hostage-taking training, or counter-terrorism training with other forces, and in so doing, to teach them the values that we think are important to our military, and that we think help make our military the best in the world.
One of those values is respect for human rights. We stress that in our training when we deal with other forces.
I think, that it is -- it should be obvious that you have a better ability to convey that message if you have communications with other forces than if you don't have communications with the other forces. And I think also that that message is frequently more convincing when it comes military-to-military than when it comes through other channels to the military. We believe that that's been one of the valuable aspects of this training. It's something that we watch and it's something that we care a lot about.
Q: The number that you gave for the folks in Colombia, is that a combination of the anti-drug, or counter-narcotics and the JCET...
A: The JCET people move in and out. I think that this year we're planning on a total of 32 in six separate JCET missions, so you can see it's pretty small.
A: They move in and out. At any given time, there are a certain number of people in Colombia and most of them are working on counter-narcotics. The number I gave you was as of March 31st, and that was 216.
Q: But is that primarily the counter-narcotics...
A: Yes. Our main relationship with the Colombian military is in the counter-narcotics area.
Q: So about 32 of that number would be...
A: Well, the JCET is separate. They're doing separate things. They do work on some counter-terrorism. But none of our forces in Colombia [are] doing anything with counter-insurgency. We do not have advisors in Colombia working with the Colombian military on counter-insurgency operations.
Q: Just a clarification of the 32 number, do you mean 32 people all together next year?
Q: So we divide the six into 32 and get a rough average number of people per mission?
A: Yeah, approximately five and a third people per mission. [Laughter]