U.S. unit to arrive in Colombia to help fight drug trafficking

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of coca plantations in Tumaco, Colombia

BOGOTA (Reuters) - A U.S. army unit will arrive in Colombia in the coming days to help the Andean country's armed forces fight against drug trafficking for a four-month period, the U.S. embassy in Bogota said on Wednesday.

The U.S. Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) will arrive in Colombia in early June, the embassy said, without specifying the size of the unit.

"SFAB's mission in Colombia is an opportunity to demonstrate our mutual commitment against drug trafficking and support for regional peace, respect for sovereignty and the lasting promise to defend shared ideals and values," said U.S. Southern Commander Admiral Craig Faller in a statement.

Last year Colombia saw cultivation of coca leaves, the chief ingredient in cocaine, rise to 212,000 hectares (523,863 acres), from 208,000 hectares in 2018.

At the same time cocaine production capacity rose to 951 tonnes in 2019, from 879 tonnes the previous year, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Colombia faces constant U.S. pressure to reduce coca cultivation. President Ivan Duque has set a target to destroy 130,000 hectares of coca crops in 2020, up from 100,000 hectares last year.

Duque has also raised the possibility of restarting aerial fumigation of coca crops using the herbicide glyphosate.

Colombia halted the practice in 2015 after the World Health Organization warned against using the herbicide, which it said can potentially cause cancer and is harmful to health and the environment.

Duque's government must comply with various health and environmental requirements demanded by Colombia's Constitutional Court if it is to renew aerial spraying of coca crops this year.

Colombia and the United States hope to cut coca cultivation and cocaine production capacity in half by the end of 2023.

The commander of the Colombian Military Forces, General Luis Fernando Navarro, said the U.S. unit will train task forces dedicated to fighting drug trafficking.


(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Christopher Cushing)