The Pentagon admitted on Thursday that several of former Colombian servicemen arrested after last week's assassination of Haiti's president had received US military training.
"A review of our training databases indicates that a small number of the Colombian individuals detained as part of this investigation had participated in past U.S. military training and education programs, while serving as active members of the Colombian Military Forces," said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Ken Hoffman in a statement to the Washington Post, without elaborating on how many of them received training or exactly what it entailed.
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont - in more or less an official 'oops,' chalked it up to 'a grim reminder that US assistance to other countries can take unexpected turns.'
"This illustrates that while we want our training of foreign armies to build professionalism and respect for human rights, the training is only as good as the institution itself," he said, adding "The Colombian army, which we have supported for 20 years, has a long history of targeting civilians, violating the laws of war and not being accountable. There has been a cultural problem within that institution."
Colombian officials have said 13 of the 15 Colombian suspects in the July 7 assassination plot once served in that country’s military, including the two killed by Haitian authorities after Moïse was fatally shot inside his home.
It is common for Colombian troops and other security personnel across Latin America to receive U.S. training and education. Colombia, in particular, has been a significant U.S. military partner for decades, receiving billions of U.S. dollars since 2000 in its effort to battle drug trafficking organizations, leftist guerrillas and far-right paramilitary groups.
That effort has included CIA-backed missions and a close relationship between Colombia military personnel and the Green Berets, who help train their elite counterparts in guerrilla warfare. A Colombian commando school is modeled on the Army’s grueling Ranger School, and the two militaries’ partnership dates at least to the 1950s. -Washington Post
What's more, the United States has provided weapons and equipment to Colombian military and police - which came under fire earlier this year after police killed multiple protesters during demonstrations. Once trained and having fought in Colombia's decades-long war has led to many veterans becoming mercenaries for hire in other global conflicts, such as in Yemen.
"The recruitment of Colombian soldiers to go to other parts of the world as mercenaries is an issue that has existed for a long time, because there is no law that prohibits it," said commander of Colombia’s Armed Forces, Gen. Luis Fernando Navarro in a statement to reporters last week.
According to the Post, foreign military training provided by the Pentagon is intended to promote "respect for human rights, compliance with the rule of law, and militaries subordinate to democratically elected civilian leadership," Hoffman, the pentagon spokesman, said with a straight face.
The revelation that some of the suspects were trained by the US military adds yet another twist to the plot to kill President Jovenel Moïse. Among those arrested are two US citizens of Haitian descent, while a Florida-based security company was involved in purchasing plane tickets for the Colombian suspects to fly to the Dominican Republic, according to the Associated Press.
At present, Haitian authorities are investigating the assassination with the assistance of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and domestic personnel.