A group led by a State Department official who is a former aide to Nancy Reagan plans to use U.S. civilian pilots to fly armed missions against foreign narcotics traffickers, according to reports published Tuesday.
Under the first missions organized by the Inter-regional Narcotics Eradication Air Wing, civilian-piloted gunships will join Peruvian narcotics police in raids to destroy cocaine laboratories, warehouses and airstrips, Knight-Ridder newspapers including The Miami Herald reported from Washington. The Peruvians will operate the M-60 machine guns and fire on drug dealers in any confrontations, according to State Department planning documents cited in the report.On future missions planned in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, foreign personnel will also man the weapons.
"We don't kill people, we (will) just fly the choppers that kill people," said one unidentified U.S. citizen who has participated in anti-drug efforts.
The coordinator of the effort, Ann B. Wrobleski, assistant secretary of state for International Narcotics Matters, said she plans to use the 150 planes and helicopters to "build up a paramilitary capability" against Latin American traffickers first.
Wrobleski is a former congressional press aide.
Plans this week to begin use of the herbicide tebuthiuron, or Spike, on coca plants in Peru were stalled due to environmental concerns. In addition, the House Foreign Relations Committee has blocked an estimated $10 million plan by Wrobleski to rebuild 20 Army surplus Hughes UN-1H helicopters for strikes against growers and traffickers in Peru and Bolivia.
Still, Wrobleski said, the program is moving forward.
Last month, 450 paratroopers of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division staged a simulated rescue of 17 Americans held hostage by drug traffickers.
Armed air wing crews are taking local workers to coca fields, where they pull up the plants.
Following operations in South America, the air wing is expected to expand to Central America and Caribbean islands, such as Jamaica.