US Aids Colombia with Protection of Oil Pipelines

BFP Magazine


US Aids Colombia with Protection of Oil Pipelines

By Jim Kouri

Monday, July 9, 2007

Oil rivals cocaine as one of Colombia's principal exports. The Cano Limon-Covenas oil pipeline transports almost 20 percent of Colombia's oil production. The pipeline originates in the Department of Arauca in the 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 worlld know this. The Colombian pipeline has been a principal infrastructure target for terrorist attacks by Colombia's insurgent groups for many years. In just one year, attacks on the pipeline cost the Colombian government an estimated $500 million 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 2002, the United States has provided about $99 million 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 had been limited. In addition, some equipment, such as night vision goggles, has not arrived yet 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.

Still, 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, 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 Defense, US Department of State

Copyright 2007 by Jim Kouri

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