After Attack, U.S. Halts Peru Anti-Drug Flights : Policy: The move may signal Washington’s withdrawal from its anti-narcotics war there.


The Bush Administration on Monday ordered the suspension of counternarcotics flights over Peru in a move that appeared to herald a virtual cease-fire in the U.S. drug war there, officials said.

The decision, revealed by the State Department late Monday, was the result of a weekend incident in which two Peruvian air force jets fired on a U.S. C-130 aircraft as it completed what U.S. officials characterized as a routine drug-surveillance flight over Peru.

The Pentagon and Peru have begun a joint investigation of the incident, which left a U.S. serviceman missing and presumed dead. He was identified as Master Sgt. Joseph C. Beard, Jr., Kalamazoo, Mich.

State Department officials said Monday that the anti-drug policy toward Peru remains “under review” in the wake of President Alberto Fujimori’s April 5 seizure of power.

But the grounding of the surveillance aircraft, which operate from Panama, comes on the heels of a decision to withdraw 20 Army Green Beret troops from central Peru, where they were training Peruvian anti-drug squads.


Agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration remain there and are continuing their work as usual, according to Benjamin F. Banta IV, a spokesman for Bob Martinez, the director of the White House Office of Drug Control Policy. But the withdrawal of military forces from the area and the grounding of surveillance aircraft effectively place a moratorium on the U.S. campaign to stanch the flow of drugs from Peru, other officials said.

At the White House, President Bush said the United States still does not have all the answers to the shooting incident. At the same time, Bush roundly disputed the claims of Peruvian officials that the U.S. plane had not filed a flight plan and that the craft was flying without U.S. markings when it was raked with machine-gun fire.

“There’s still some uncertainty as to exactly what happened. The plane was marked, it was clearly on a predictable course, and so I . . . still don’t know all the answers to it,” Bush told reporters.

The Administration’s latest step comes amid growing pessimism about the situation on this front in its $2.2-billion-a-year “Andean strategy” to combat drug exports.

The Administration already has shut off $325 million in military and economic aid to Peru for 1991 and 1992. Officials indicated that the abandonment of the entire operation there is a possibility. Such a move would mark a milestone in a program that the Bush Administration launched three years ago to fight the supply of overseas drugs at their source.

“We’ve made it clear that high-level cooperation in the drug field or any field will be very difficult if Peru does not get back to democracy,” one U.S. official said.

The shooting incident has added to the disquiet in the Administration over the merits of working with Fujimori’s autocratic regime.

Furthermore, Administration officials acknowledged that the increasing risks of the operation have sharpened concerns about the rewards of the Peruvian program.

U.S. military training teams are under constant threat from Peruvian drug traffickers and terrorist groups, officials said.

Pentagon and State Department officials in particular have argued that a counternarcotics strategy based chiefly on destroying coca-producing fields and laboratories will not solve U.S. drug problems, said Terry McCoy, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Florida.

The DEA, by contrast, has been far more enthusiastic about the Peruvian drug mission and can be expected to resist eliminating it, McCoy added.

Numerous studies have shown that the growers and processors of cocaine simply move to new locations after their fields and facilities are destroyed. The supply of the drug has remained steady or has risen while the price has fallen in recent years, indicating that eradication efforts have been largely futile.

“Even those with serious reservations about the drug effort are pretty reluctant to abandon Peru completely,” McCoy said. “It’s always useful to have people on the ground to keep track of what’s going on. If you pull them out, you’d have to be nervous. But the Fujimori government is not giving us much alternative.”

Times staff writers John M. Broder and Norman Kempster contributed to this article.