Colombia in the "coalition"?

Latin America and the Caribbean
Afghan police training last year in Colombia. (From El Tiempo.)

Colombia's Defense Ministry has acknowledged that it is considering a request from the government of Spain to send a contingent of troops to Afghanistan. This possibility was first raised in Thursday's edition of Spain's El País newspaper, excerpted below. If Bogotá says "yes," Colombia's would become the first Latin American military to accompany NATO forces in Afghanistan. El Salvador has maintained a small military contingent in Iraq since shortly after the 2003 U.S. invasion. The Salvadoran military has most likely received U.S. assistance from Defense-budget accounts created to aid members of the U.S.-led "coalitions" in Iraq and Afghanistan. (We have not seen a dollar amount for such aid to El Salvador, though it is likely part of the $123.3 million that the Government Accountability Office lists, on page 11 of this report [PDF], as having been given to "other nations" operating in Iraq between March 2003 and March 2007. Until we find out how much El Salvador has received, any Iraq-related funding is not reflected in El Salvador's "Just the Facts" entry.) If it sends a contingent to Afghanistan, would Colombia's military then qualify for some of the Defense-budget "Coalition Support" or "Lift and Sustain" funds (described in this Defense Department budget-request annex [PDF]) that have generally gone to countries like Pakistan, Jordan, Poland, and others participating in the Iraq and Afghanistan missions? Yes, it probably would. Would such funds offset recent reductions in military and police assistance to Colombia? Probably not, but the possibility cannot be dismissed. From Thursday's El País:

Sources with knowledge of the conversations have confirmed to El País that Colombia, Spain and NATO have been in three-way negotiations for months about the incorporation of Colombian troops. While the details have still not been completed, the idea is that Bogotá would contribute a company of some 100 troops to the Spanish detachment in Qal-i-Naw, capital of the province of Badghis, in the northwest of the country. For Spain, the arrival of the Colombian troops, foreseen for next spring, would be an unrepayable contribution, since it would allow the completion of a reduced rapid-reaction battalion with which to confront ever more-frequent incidents in a territory with 400,000 inhabitants and an area similar to that of Galicia, whose security so far depends on 200 Spanish military personnel. For NATO, the Spanish mediation facilitates things, since Spain would provide the Colombian troops with training, infrastructure and even equipment. ... The most interested in the operation is Colombia. Participation in the Afghanistan conflict would reinforce its role as the privileged interlocutor of the United States and its allies in Latin America. For one thing, it would participate in NATO's periodic meetings with the countries that contribute to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) but do not belong to the organization (14 of 40). In the medium term, Colombia's aspiration is to incorporate itself into the group formed by Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, countries that, for geographic reasons, cannot aspire to join NATO but who share, according to the alliance itself, its "strategic concerns and values." With the exception of Japan, whose legislation limits its participation in foreign military missions, the other three "contact countries," as NATO calls them, have troops in Afghanistan or have been invited to send them. ... The issue was raised last July 5 by the Defense Minister [of Spain], Carme Chacón, with her Colombian counterpart, Juan Manuel Santos, whom she received in Madrid. For their part, Colombian military personnel have already visited two Spanish bases in Afghanistan: Herat and Qal-i-Naw. In addition, in what constitutes a first step, Afghan police have received anti-narcotics training in Colombia. It is not insignificant that the current U.S. ambassador in Kabul, William B. Wood, served before in Bogotá.

From the website of Colombia's El Tiempo newspaper later Thursday:

The Iberian nation's Defense Ministry indicated that the security-force members' arrival is an issue in the Colombian government's hands, and that it would take effect in 2009. "It is under study, it is not confirmed. Details remain" with regard to "what shape the integration would take, and in what contingent," a source in the Spanish Defense Ministry told Agénce France Presse. ... High-ranking sources in the Colombian Defense Ministry, however, assured that the scenario of Colombian soldiers in combat in Afghanistan is improbable, and that instead they have thought of sending members of the Engineers' Battalion and units specialized in de-mining. ... The police has already trained anti-narcotics commandos from that country [Afghanistan] at the base in Pijaos, in Espinal (Tolima). The Colombian delegation in Afghanistan is headed by Gen. Gustavo Matamoros Camacho, the army's chief of commando operations.