American Pilots On Colombia’s Frontlines

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The United States has been fighting a drug war in Colombia for many years and American contract pilots have helped to wage the battle by spraying drug crops with insecticide. Of course, flying over lands controlled by drug lords has never been as safe as walking the dog, but a new danger from leftist rebels is increasing the danger quotient substantially. The Associated Press cites a United Nations study, which claims an ongoing U.S.-backed fumigation campaign has cut coca cultivation in the country by one-third in seven months. However, the weapons of choice -- contract American ag pilots -- are now caught in the crossfire between leftist rebels and government forces who try to clear the flight paths for the aerial bombardment. The Associated press reports Colombian government officials claim the pilots are flying into unprotected areas, which cannot be easily reached by Army forces. As a result, the rebels, who are paid to protect the drug crops, are shooting at the low-flying aircraft and, unfortunately, bringing some down. Colombian commanders claim their troops are slowed down by thick jungle, inclement weather and rough terrain near the Venezuelan/Colombian border, therefore leaving the aircraft flying over unprotected areas. "Dodging trees and ground fire over jungle terrain at 200 mph is not diplomacy, and diplomats cannot be expected to fully comprehend the complexity of the task and the level of support required," John McLaughlin, director of aviation in the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics, wrote in an Aug. 4 internal memo cited by the Associated Press.