The contras: a sorry sight despite 4 years of US help
This has turned into the week in world affairs that took Honduran troops, ferried to the fighting front in United States Army helicopters, to rescue the main force of the Nicaraguan contra rebels from Nicaraguan troops. So low has the contras' fighting ability fallen that they could not defend themselves in their base camps some 10 miles inside the Honduran border. For several months now, the Sandinistas have been able to keep the contras hemmed into their camps, preventing the contras from taking offensive action inside Nicaragua itself.Skip to next paragraph
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The Reagan administration has been feeding, arming, and training the contras both overtly and covertly for more than four years. In theory, the time has long since passed when the contras should have been able to move inside Nicaragua and set up a permanent base from which they could hope to overthrow the Sandinista government, as Fidel Castro once did to the Batista regime in Cuba.
But since last March, the main fighting between the contras and the Sandinistas has been largely on the Honduran side of the border with the Sandinistas substantially on the offensive.
Last weekend was not the first time that Washington has had to come to the rescue of the contras. In March, the Sandinistas made a serious attack on the contra camps in southern Honduras. The Sandinista troops involved in the attack were estimated at between 800 and 1,500. While there are supposed to be at least 7,000 contras in Honduras, the Reagan administration nevertheless pressed the Honduran government to send its own troops into the area, which it did - reluctantly.
This time, there is as yet no reliable estimate of the strength of the Sandinista forces in the recent fighting, in an area now called ``New Nicaragua,'' from the number of Nicaraguan refugees and contras in the area. The number of Honduran troops ferried in US helicopters in last weekend's rescue operation is estimated at 1,200.
By this weekend, the Sandinistas are expected to have largely withdrawn from Las Vegas Salient, an area of Honduras jutting into Nicaragua, where the skirmishing has been going on.
The two governments - Honduran and Nicaraguan - have engaged in lively conversations with each other.
One result is that the Honduran government has pressed the Reagan administration to get the contras out of Honduras. The Hondurans say they have an absolute promise that this will be done by April 1987 at the latest.
US officials in Honduras and Washington make it sound more like a desirable goal than a hard promise. However, there seems to be at least a tentative schedule for moving the contras out of Honduras and into Nicaragua.
There is a reason for selecting April as the target date.
In February, the contras are scheduled to receive the second installment of the $100 million in military and humanitarian aid that the US Congress approved in October.
This would, in theory, give the contras three months in which to try to fight their way inside Nicaragua and let the Hondurans get back to a life of neutrality.
But the contra operation is already well behind schedule. As usual in such operations, the planning of the counterrevolutionary operation is based on the assumption that the population inside the target country is yearning for liberation and will rise at the appropriate moment to join in the battle against their local oppressers.