act Sheet
Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Washington, DC
May 15, 2001

Civilian Contractors and U.S. Military Personnel Supporting Plan Colombia

 When it approved funding in support of the programs of the Colombian Government (known as Plan Colombia) in July 2000, the United States Congress also placed limits on the number of U.S. military personnel and U.S. citizen civilian contractors to support Plan Colombia: 500 permanent- and temporary-duty U.S. military personnel and 300 U.S. citizen civilian contractors (see note 1). The U.S. Embassy in Bogota closely monitors those limits. Although personnel levels vary as projects are begun, implemented, and then completed, the embassy carefully ensures that the ceilings are not exceeded. The Executive Branch provides reports to Congress on a regular basis covering the numbers and activities of all U.S. military and contractor personnel in Colombia.

U.S. civilian government employees, U.S. military personnel, and non-U.S. civilian contractors undertake U.S. programs in support of Plan Colombia (see note 2).

Civilian Contract Personnel

Activities encompass a broad range of programs (see note 3), some of which have been underway for many years, while others have been initiated or expanded to support Plan Colombia. Three agencies -- State, USAID, and DoD -- account for the overwhelming majority of U.S. Government activities in Colombia using civilian contractors.

State Department

U.S. antinarcotics programs in Colombia seek to eliminate the cultivation of opium poppy and coca leaf, as well as the trafficking of illicit drugs and their chemical precursors. Toward these objectives, U.S. assistance is provided to the Government of Colombia to strengthen its capabilities to disrupt and dismantle drug-trafficking organizations, destroy the cocaine- and heroin-processing industries, and prevent the diversion of licit chemicals into illicit channels. Many of these activities, including aerial spraying, predate Plan Colombia.

The aerial spraying program in Colombia is conducted by the Colombian National Police (CNP) with support from the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL); the American Embassy's Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS); and United States citizen, third-country national, and Colombian personnel contracted by the State Department with DynCorp Aerospace Technologies.

As of late March 2001, there were just over 100 U.S. citizen civilian contractors with Dyncorp in Colombia, the majority of whom were in place well before the legislation in support of Plan Colombia was enacted. An approximately equal number of third-country nationals and Colombian citizens also are employed under this contract. These contractors work on counternarcotics projects with the Antinarcotics Directorate (DIRAN), an air wing of the Colombian National Police, and also support the Aviation Brigade of the Colombian Army.

Generally, 12 of the pilots in the aerial-spraying program, flying OV-10 aircraft, are U.S. civilian contractors, approximately six of whom are in Colombia on any given day. The pilots of the other spray aircraft (T-65 single-engine airplanes) are employed by the Colombian National Police and are not U.S. citizens

Spray aircraft are accompanied by escort helicopters that carry combined U.S. contractor and Colombian National Police crews, and by search-and-rescue helicopters, which also carry combined crews. On a typical mission, U.S. civilian contractors accompany the spray operation in these helicopters as pilots and medics, but not as gunners. These contractors provide support for Colombian National Police counternarcotics and law enforcement operations and do not have a counterinsurgency role. Currently, there are four U.S. civilian contractors in Colombia working as helicopter pilots. There is one contractor pilot in each escort aircraft and two DynCorp contractor pilots and SAR personnel in the search-and-rescue aircraft. The co-pilots and gunners are members of the Colombian National Police.

All U.S. contractor support to the Colombian aerial spraying program contains an integral training component with a goal of completely nationalizing the program. In late 2001 and early 2002, deliveries of nine new T-65 spray aircraft will require additional training and logistical assistance from civilian contractors. The current goal is to phase out U.S. support for the aerial spraying mission 2 years after arrival of these additional aircraft.

The State Department contract with DynCorp also supports the 33 UH-1N helicopters supplied to the Colombian Army to provide air mobility for the three counternarcotics battalions. Approximately 25 U.S. citizen contractors provide training and logistical support to the UH-1Ns, but they do not fly in counternarcotics missions

United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

The U.S. Agency for International Development currently has 11 U.S. civilian contractors based in Bogota working on social and economic development and administration of justice programs in support of Plan Colombia. These numbers have been as high as 16 and are expected to reach 35 by the end of 2001. The contractors are engaged in alternative development; democracy building, including expanded administration of justice and human rights activities; and managing the displaced persons program. They also provide internal administrative support. As these grow and new programs in local governance, anti-corruption, and support for the peace process are implemented, USAID will make greater use of contractors, primarily through Colombian, U.S., and international non-governmental organizations.

Department of Defense (DoD)

DoD employs U.S. citizen civilian contractors to carry out several programs in support of Plan Colombia. DoD requires contractors because of shortages in military personnel in specific technical areas or where specialized expertise is needed.

Approximately 13 U.S. citizen civilian contractors provide technical support to the Colombian Army at several radar sites, and another 16 U.S. civilian contractors provide information for force protection and counterdrug operations.

Four civilian contractors are now in Colombia to provide advance support for the first delivery of UH-60L (Blackhawk) helicopters. These contractors will provide logistical support, training, and maintenance for the 14 Blackhawks being supplied to the Colombian Army's counternarcotics battalions. The number of contractors will increase in the coming year to support helicopters as they are delivered.

The average number of U.S. citizen civilian contractors working on State Department, USAID. and DoD programs supporting Plan Colombia on any given day has been in the range of 160-180 persons.

U.S. Military

The primary focus of Department of Defense activities in Colombia, through the U.S. Military Group (MILGP), is counternarcotics with the provision of training, equipment, infrastructure development, intelligence support, detection, and monitoring information to Colombian armed forces units engaged in counter-drug operations. This assistance increases the capabilities of Colombian land, sea, and air security forces to detect and interdict narcotrafficking operations. It also provides assistance to the Colombian National Police (CNP) in its eradication and law enforcement mission. These military personnel -- as well as civilian contractors described above -- are supervised by the MILGP at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota.

The most significant recent activities for U.S. military personnel have been training and equipping the second and third counternarcotics battalions of the Colombian Army; completing training and equipping the Colombian counternarcotics brigade headquarters; and providing design, contract, and oversight services for a variety of Colombian Army aviation infrastructure projects to support the UN-1N, Huey-II, and UH-60 helicopter programs.

Other short-term U.S. military training teams are in Colombia to work with the military and police. One U.S. military Staff Judge Advocate officer was assigned to the Milgroup for 6 months to support human rights training, develop rules of engagement, and assist in the professionalization of the Colombian military legal corps. MILGP staffing also includes administrative and support personnel.

The total number of U.S. military trainers has typically been between 60 to 100 for variable periods of time depending on the assignment. The average number of all U.S. military personnel on any given day -- both permanent and temporary duty military personnel -- in Colombia to support Plan Colombia has been about 200. In mid-March 2001, for example, there were 183 permanent and temporary U.S. military personnel in support of Plan Colombia.


  1. Title III, Chapter 2, of the Emergency Supplemental Act, 2000, as enacted in the Military Constructions Appropriations Act, 2001, P.L. 106-246.
  2. Plan Colombia is defined by Section 3204(h) in the legislation as "...the plan of the Government of Colombia instituted by the administration of President Pastrana to combat drug production and trafficking, foster peace, increase the rule of law, improve human rights, expand economic development, and institute justice reform."
  3. U.S. programs provide training, equipment, infrastructure development, funding, aviation support, and expertise to the Government of Colombia and Colombian civil society in the following areas: of alternative development, interdiction, eradication, law enforcement, institutional strengthening, judicial reform, human rights, humanitarian assistance for displaced persons, local governance, anti-corruption, conflict management and peace, the rehabilitation of child soldiers, and preservation of the environment.