The 500-mile pipeline, which snakes through eastern Colombia, transporting 100,000 barrels of oil a day for Occidental Petroleum of Los Angeles, is emerging as a new front in the terror war.
One of Colombia's most valuable assets, the pipeline has long been vulnerable to bombings by Colombia's guerrilla groups, which along with the country's paramilitary outfits are included on the Bush administration's list of terrorist organizations.
Over the next two years, 10 American helicopters will bolster the Colombian counterinsurgency efforts, and some 4,000 more troops will receive American training, which will begin in earnest in January, Bush administration and American military officials said in interviews in recent days.
The policy shift dovetails with the Bush administration's new, global emphasis on expanding and diversifying the sources of America's oil imports, with an eye to reducing dependence on Middle Eastern oil.
The $94 million counterinsurgency program is also an important element in the offensive by Colombia's new government against two rebel groups and a paramilitary force that dominate much of the country.
Pipeline bombings by the guerrillas cost the government nearly $500 million last year — a blow in a country where oil accounts for 25 percent of revenues. The two main rebel groups, which view Occidental as a symbol of American imperialism, have bombed the pipeline 948 times since the 1980's, while extorting oil royalty payments from local government officials. ©