Congress Approves Helicopters for Colombia

July/August 2000

The United States will provide Colombia with 18 UH-60L Blackhawk and 42 UH-1H Huey II helicopters, as well as support for another 15 UH-1N Huey helicopters, as part of a $1.3 billion counter-narcotics aid package approved by Congress at the close of June. The Colombia package was part of a larger $11.2 billion spending bill approved by the House of Representatives on June 29 and by the Senate a day later. President Bill Clinton welcomed passage of the bill and is expected to sign the legislation soon.

In January, the Clinton administration announced it would seek 30 Blackhawk and 33 Huey helicopters for Colombia, but the Senate subsequently endorsed shipping 60 of the cheaper Hueys, while the House sought a package of 30 Blackhawks. On June 22, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon pushed the Blackhawks, arguing that they are more capable and more survivable than the Hueys, as well as more compatible with Colombia's helicopter force, which includes 31 Blackhawks and has another 14 on order. The ranking members of the Senate and House appropriations committees worked out the final compromise.

The helicopters are intended for counter-narcotic operations. The U.S. State Department estimates Colombia is the source for more than 80 percent of the cocaine that enters the United States. Sensitive to criticism that the United States may entangle itself in Colombia's ongoing war with a number of rebel groups, the State Department argued in March that U.S. support for the Colombian military "is targeted at reducing the flow of narcotics and not against guerrilla or paramilitary groups." However, the aid will help fund a drive by the military to gain control of drug-producing areas in southern Colombia, where anti-government forces control much of the territory.