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Colombia: The Army
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > The Organization of the Armed Forces > The Navy

THE ARMY


The effective combat strength of the National Army (Ejército Nacional) is considerably less than that suggested by the total strength figures. Despite having a total of 226,352 members in 2008, well over half of the army, or 128,818 personnel in early 2009, could not legally be used for combat duty because they were serving their obligatory military service. In 2008 the army ranks included approximately 7,000 officers and 26,000 NCOs.

The general commanding the army is assisted by a staff consisting of a chief of army operations and an inspector general. The army deputy commander is also the army chief of staff. This general oversees the directorates of planning and information and coordinates operations, logistics, human development, and education and doctrine.

Various special units are under the direct authority of the General Command of the Military Forces. The 3d Colombian Battalion, an infantry unit comprising 31 officers, 58 NCOs, 265 soldiers, and some civilians, is assigned to the multinational observer force in the Sinai Peninsula. Between 120 and 150 Colombian soldiers are likely to have joined the Spanish contingent deployed in Afghanistan by the end of 2009. The Aviation Brigade is made up of a helicopter battalion, an aircraft battalion, and the army’s aviation school. The Army Aviation School (EAE), originally known as the Army Aviation Branch School, has been part of the brigade since 2003. The EAE moved from Tolemaida to Bogotá’s El Dorado International Airport in 2004. The army’s air capacity has expanded by more than 300 percent since 1999 as a result of aircraft contributions by Plan Colombia, even though the army’s fleet size has remained fairly constant (see table 5, Appendix). The Counternarcotics Brigade with four separate battalions, created as a part of Plan Colombia, also reports directly to the commander of the army.

By October 2007, the army had 20 mobile brigades, each containing four counterguerrilla battalions of approximately 375 personnel each, with the capacity to undertake special missions in any part of the national territory and to engage in night operations. Six of these counterguerrilla units are special infantry battalions trained to operate in high-altitude zones frequently utilized by insurgents as strategic corridors. The first high-mountain battalion succeeded in driving the FARC out of its traditional stronghold in the Sumapaz region to the south of Bogotá. The Rapid Deployment Force (Fudra) is an elite counterinsurgent unit made up of the 1st, 2d, and 3d mobile brigades with their own transport capacity and air support.

In 1996 the army formed the United Action Groups for Personal Freedom (Gaula), an elite force dedicated to combating kidnapping and extortion. There are 16 army Gaula units throughout the country, each composed of individuals trained to carry out rescue operations of kidnap victims and to dismantle criminal organizations. The Gaula units also include members of the DAS, the Technical Investigation Corps (CTI), the crime scene unit, and the Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la Nación). Plan Meteoro (Meteor Plan) units, which President Uribe founded in 2002 in order to reestablish security on the country’s roads and provide protection to motorists, also came under the General Command of the Military Forces.

In 2007 the army had seven divisions assigned to territorial regions. The divisions are organized into brigades, which in turn comprise some 320 battalions. The 1st Division is headquartered in Santa Marta and has jurisdiction over the northern departments of Atlántico, Magdalena, La Guajira, César, Bolívar, Córdoba, Sucre, Antioquia, and northern Chocó. This division has five fixed brigades, with regional headquarters in Barranquilla (the 2d), Medellín (the 4th), Valledupar (the 10th), Montería (the 11th), and Carepa (the 17th). The 4th Mobile Brigade, with three counterguerrilla battalions and two Afeur units, is also assigned to this divisional jurisdiction.

The 2d Division operates out of Bucaramanga and has responsibility for Santander, Northern Santander, Arauca, parts of Antioquia, parts of Bolívar, and the southern region of César. The division has three brigades in Bucaramanga (the 5th), Puerto Berrío (the 14th), and Arauca (the 18th). Various special units also operate in this division, including the 2d Artillery Airborne Defense Battalion, the 5th and 22d mobile brigades with a total of nine counterguerrilla battalions, the Plan Meteoro 3d Company, and two Afeur units.

Cali is home to the 3d Division, based in Quindío, Risaralda, Caldas, Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Nariño, and southern Chocó. It is composed of the 3d Brigade, based in Cali, the 8th Brigade in Armenia, and the 29th Brigade located close to Popayán. Also in this jurisdiction are the 6th and 14th mobile brigades, six counterguerrilla battalions, the 9th Afeur unit, and the Plan Meteoro 4th Company.

The 4th Division is headquartered in Villavicencio and operates in Casanare, Guaviare, Guainía, Vichada, Caquetá, Vaupés, the extreme southern territory of Cundinamarca, southern Boyacá, and the eastern areas of the departments of Cauca and Meta. It has two brigades, the 7th, based in Villavicencio, and the 16th, which operates out of Yopal. The Eastern Specific Command, also assigned to this division, is based in Puerto Carreño. Special units in the 4th Division’s jurisdiction include the 7th and 9th mobile brigades, with 12 counterguerrilla battalions and two Afeur units, the 31st Combat Company for Support Services, and the Plan Meteoro 5th Company.

The 5th Division is assigned to Bogotá, with jurisdictional control over Cundinamarca, Tolima, Huila, and Boyacá. It is composed of the 1st Brigade in Tunja, the 6th Brigade in Ibagué, the 9th Brigade in Neiva, and the 23d Brigade in Bogotá. The 8th Mobile Brigade, six counterguerrilla battalions, the 1st, 2d, 3d, and 4th Afeur units, and the Plan Meteoro 6th Company are also part of the 5th Division.

The 6th Division is headquartered in Florencia, Caquetá Department (12th Brigade). Its other brigades are located in Mocoa, Putumayo Department (27th Brigade); Leticia, Amazonas Department (26th Brigade); Santana, Putumayo (13th Mobile Brigade); and the Counternarcotics Brigade in Larandia, Caquetá. This division operates in the departments of Amazonas, Putumayo, and Caquetá, as well as in a few municipalities in Cauca and Vaupés. The 6th Division also includes the 12th Afeur unit and the Plan Meteoro 7th Company, and it has additional brigades serving with the Southern Naval Force in Puerto Leguízamo on the Putumayo and the 6th Airborne Combat Command (6th Cacom) in Tres Esquinas, Caquetá.

Finally, the 7th Division is responsible for Antioquia, Córdoba, Sucre, and Chocó and is based in Medellín. Created in 2005 to cover territory previously under the 1st Division’s jurisdiction, the 7th Division provides more autonomy to operations conducted in the northwest region of the country. This division encompasses the 4th Brigade stationed in Medellín; the 11th Brigade, which covers Carepa, Chigirodó, and Montería; the 14th Brigade in Puerto Berrío; and the 17th Brigade based in Maporita. The 11th Mobile Battalion is also assigned to the 7th Division.




Last Updated: January 2010


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 Factba.se.

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