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Colombia: The Organization of the Armed Forces
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > The Organization of the Armed Forces > The Command Structure


As commander in chief, the president appoints the minister of national defense (see fig. 7). One of the most significant reforms of the Gaviria presidency was changing the head of the ministry from a military to a civilian post, breaking a practice that had been uninterrupted since 1953, and in 1991 Rafael Pardo Rueda became minister of national defense. The Ministry of National Defense directs the military and police forces by formulating and implementing defense and security policies. The general commander of the Military Forces of Colombia, the highest-ranking military position (held by General Freddy Padilla de León in late 2009), has maximum authority for the planning and strategic management of all operational and administrative matters and exercises a legal mandate over the armed forces through the minister of national defense, the second in command after the president. In practice, however, the president has routinely issued orders directly to the general commander.

The General Command of the Military Forces consists of the commander and his General Staff, the Advisory Group, and offices of the inspector general, general adjutant, strategic planners, and legal advisers. The Supreme Military Tribunal (TSM), which is headed by the general commander of the Military Forces, also reports to the General Command, but its judgments in some cases may be appealed to the Supreme Court of Justice. Directly under the General Command are the deputy commander and the Joint General Staff, with the service commander is in direct line of command. The deputy commanders of each service are also the chiefs of staff, who together constitute the Joint Chiefs of Staff and report directly to the General Command, rather than being part of the chain of command. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff assists the General Command in the coordination of operational and administrative affairs of the three services and the Urban Counterterrorist Special Forces Group (Afeur). Roughly paralleling the U.S. military, the Joint Chiefs of Staff is divided into six departments, or headquarters (jefaturas), for personnel (J–1), intelligence and counterintelligence (J–2), operations (J–3), logistics (J–4), integrated action (J–5), and education and doctrine (J–6).

The establishment of the joint command structures represented an important step toward the implementation of a major reform of the Colombian military modeled on the command structure of the U.S. Armed Forces. Five joint commands under the general commander of the Military Forces are those of the Superior War College, National Intelligence Coordination, Special Operations, Caribbean, and Joint Task Force. The Joint Task Force Command includes Joint Task Force Omega (Fuerzas de Tarea Conjunta Omega), which was created in 2003 by recruiting the best 15,000 troops in the military. Initially created to support Plan Patriota, it began supporting Plan Consolidación (Consolidation Plan) on December 10, 2006. Headquartered at Larandia Air Force Base in Caquetá Department, Omega’s mission is to engage in counterinsurgency operations, especially against the FARC and its leaders.

The Military Forces have been gradually introducing a sweeping organizational change, which calls for replacing the current structure with five joint operational commands: Pacific (covering the western coastline and Ecuadorian border); Caribbean (north coast and Panamanian border); Eastern (frontier with Venezuela); Central (the Andean heartland of Colombia); and the existing Joint Task Force Omega, expanded to cover the southeast, including the borders with Peru and Brazil. The new organization is designed to encourage closer cooperation among different branches of the military and to ensure dedicated resources of troops and naval and air assets in all zones. However, as of mid-2009 it appeared that the proposed new organization had been either only partially implemented or possibly further modified.

The Superior Council on National Defense and Security, formed by the executive branch in 1992, is an advisory body on defense and security matters. Chaired by the president, the CSSDN counts as its members the minister of national defense, the general commander of the Military Forces, the director general of the National Police, the director of the Administrative Security Department (DAS), the minister of interior and justice, the minister of foreign relations, and the heads of two congressional committees—constitutional affairs and defense and international relations. The CSSDN advises on the planning and execution of defense and security policy and is responsible for coordinating the various civilian and military entities involved in national security.

Last Updated: December 1988

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Colombia was first published in 1988. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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Section 157 of 188


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