By Julio Montes
Terrorism and guerrilla warfare are only one of the problems that the Colombian National Police (PNC) finds itself preoccupied with; police agents are also engaged in fighting the ever-growing and powerful street gangs, organized crime, and the huge and the very rich drug trafficking; all these in addition to the usual, mundane, police tasks. The Colombian police beat is one of the most dangerous in the continent; therefore, the PNC responds as one of the four pillars of the unified military command.
Police special units appeared in the early 1960s, and by 1963 the Granaderos (Grenadiers) functioned at national level, with its operators trained at the Lanceros School at Tolemaida-Melgar and at the Gabriel González School at Espinal-Tolima, in mountain, combat, patrol, communications, weapons and precision firing skills. The PNC tells us that the Grenadiers were replaced in the 70s and 80s with other special units, such as the Special Operations Groups (GOES), the CEA (Special Weapons Corps – Cuerpo Especial Armado), and the Urban Antiterrorist Light Battalion (BLAUR) functioning at Medellín and Bogotá. These groups would even travel to Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Mexico and Venezuela to train police officers there, and they would be the stepping stone for the formation of the current PNC Specialized police units.
Colombian National Police (PNC) Small Arms
The Colombian Military Museum at the Candelaria neighborhood in Bogotá gives us a closer look to the vast amount of small arms found in Colombia. The PNC uses the Model 92FS Beretta supplied by the US, with the initial 870 acquired in 1989 for use of the PNC and the national security agency, the DAS (Security Administration Department). The CZ-75 is also encountered, along with the Jericho 941, which is preferred by the UNASE. Indumil produces a .380 pistol, denominated simply as Militar, and also in use along with the Indumil -Scorpio. Perhaps the most distributed pistol is the S&W Model 10 and Model 15, with over 25,000 acquired since 1977, along with numbers of Ruger P89. The DAS makes use of the Beretta Model 12 SMG and a few Madsen M/46, M/50 and M/53 are still encountered. The HK94A3 are preferred by the VIP protection details, while the MP5 in all variants are used by all police Special Forces. Many of those police agents patrolling Bogotá during my stay could be seen carrying Mini-Uzi (motorcycle cops), and Uzi SMGs. Indeed, the Mini-Uzi, Uzi, and Uzi Carbine appear to be confined to police and security details. In 1977 the military received some 395 Ingram M10, and these have been relegated to the National Police units (Security Administration Department – DAS - and Technical Investigation Corps – CTI - from the General Attorney’s Office).
Those police “combat” urban patrols observed are equipped with the field OD fatigues with matching jungle hats, assault vest of local design, and carry the M4 (CAR-15A3 R979) carbines. In the field, the US M85 Kevlar helmet is used. The Indumil Galil AR PNC is the semiautomatic variant with folding stock being distributed to the police to replace those G3 and Galil 7.62mm semiautomatics previous used while the Galil SR 339, with Nimrod 6× scope and bipod, is used by snipers along with Model 700 models.
There are several new weapons now being distributed, to include the Tavor TAR-21 with Mil-Std-1913 sight rail standard, from IWI for Special Forces, and the Model 82A1M from Barrett and the Model AW for precision work. The AW has the classic lines of the British made Accuracy International L96 firing the standard 7.62x51mm caliber. Daewoo has supplied the USAS-12 and the US the Remington the Model 870P shotguns.
Given that the PNC would find itself involved in actual combat with the FARC and the narco-guerrillas, it uses heavy support weapons such as M249A1 SAW, Negev, Vektor SS77, and M60E4, and M79, M203, Croatian RBG-6 MGL, and MGL MK1 grenade launchers. Indumil supplies the M26 defensive grenade, and the US has supplied the M67 type. The Jungle Commandos make use of the M72A3, the RPG-22, and AT4 AT weapons, and Mk19 automatic grenade launchers. Police helicopters are armed with either M60D or GAU-17/A machine guns.
Police Jungle Commandos
On March 1, 2008, eighteen jungle commandos boarded six UH-60 helicopters in route to Ecuador. In fact they were about to land on top of a guerrilla camp some 1,800 meters inside Ecuador, where Luis Edgar Devia (a.k.a. Raul Reyes), a leader of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), had been detected and attacked earlier. The commandos found the guerrillas busy recovering bodies and wounded from their camp. A short close quarters fight ensued. At the end, 17 guerrillas were dead to the loss of one commando.
The Jungles have been trained by the British SAS and they respond under the Antinarcotics Directorate (DIRAN). The first jungle company was operational in 1989, in northern Colombia, along Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and Guajira, in 1989. Today, the DIRAN operates three jungle commando companies and an Air Mobile company under the Joint Interagency Task Force South (JAITF-S).
The DIRAN is divided in an Aviation Area (ARAVI), and an Operational Area. ARAVI handles the largest police helicopter fleet in South America. The old UH-1H, in fact, is the workhorse of the unit, but has received a complete overhaul and converted into the Huey-II, with new engine, new boom and rotor and improved avionics. In 2001, the Colombian Police received 31 armor floor plates, and 19 GAU-17/Mk44 machine guns to equip its helicopters, and the installation of the first four kits was carried out at US Helicopter Co., with the other modifications taking place in Colombia. Night flying instruction commenced in 2005.
In addition to the hardened Jungles, the Colombian National Police deploys its Police Special Operations Commando or COPE (Comando de Operaciones Especiales), responding under the Operative Directorate. This quick reaction force attends high-risk situations, and it’s divided in an Administrative Area (Area Administrativa), and an Operative Areas (Area Operativas). Under the Operative Areas responds an Urban Group and a Rural Group. The Urban unit comprises a Raiding Team (Allanamiento), a Penetration Team (Penetración), and a VIP Protection Team (Protección a Dignatarios). The Rural Group accounts for an Assault Team (Asalto), a Support Team (Apoyo), and a Reconnaissance Team (Reconocimiento). A Sniper Group (Grupo Francotirador) provides support to both, Urban and Rural Groups.
The EMCAR refers to the Carabineer Mobile Squadrons (Escuadrones Moviles de Carabineros). There are 62 EMCAR in charge of rural police duties and intervention in rural areas; each squadron comprises 150 agents, including 4 officers, and 12 NCOs.
When President Bush visited Colombia in 2007, Bogotá exploded in riots. The PNC responded with its ESMADs, special crowd control units. They came with Centigon Water Cannon Vehicles to battle the rioters. These armored vehicles have been supplied by Colombia Armor Holdings, a filial from Centigon from Ohio. The armored Water Cannon Vehicle has the capability to operate in combat, in off-road terrain and in all climates. The water cannon is operated by remote control and the vehicle is equipped with a water engine/pump. It has the capacity to carry 5,000 to 9,000 liters of water and two separate 60-liter tanks for gas, chemical, foam, or dye additives. The cannon's range is approximately 165 ft (50 m) with a knock down distance of 100 ft (30 m). The water spray can be continuous or intermittent. An electric or hydraulic poly-plow is added to the front of the vehicle for barricade removal. The vehicle can also serve as a multi-purpose fire emergency vehicle. It is available in a variety of configurations and protection levels. In addition to the Centigon, the PNC deploys a considerable fleet of armored vehicles, including some Panhards M3 and RG-12.
The unit in charge of crowd control refers to the PNC ESMAD squadrons (Escuadrones Moviles Antidisturbios). For their tasks, the ESMAD are equipped with the standard helmets and protective gear, and are ready to respond anywhere in the country. The ESMAD were first informally organized on February 24, 1999, with 200 policemen, 8 NCOs and 9 officers, and a few months later Resolution 01263 formally made it part of the Colombian National Police. Today there are eight active mobile squadrons, with three in Bogotá (I, II and III), one in Medellín (IV), another one in Calí (V), and one more in Barranquilla (VI). There are also seven mobile units denominated FUCUR, for Urban Control Forces, which perform as armed rapid intervention in tandem with the ESMAD.
The Anti-kidnappings and Extortion Division fields the UNASE (Unidad Antisecuestro y Extorsión), an intervention police outfit with jurisdiction in Bogotá, and other metropolitan centers. Each UNASE has four Urban Interdiction Groups with 15 operators each.
Other special intervention police units include the Urban Special Elite Group that operates in Medellín since 2001; the Disarmament Metropolitan Commando (COMED – also denominated Puma Group) operating in Cali; the Counter Narcotics Special Action Group (GAEN) is an intervention unit responding under the DIRAN, and the Elite Group responds under the DAS (Security Administration Department); and the Penal Immediate Reaction Group (GRI) under the Ministry of Justice.
U.S. Assistance Continues
The U.S. continues to provide for training for pilots, procurement for aviation repairs and maintenance, and has implemented an on-the-job training program. Classes on night aerial operations over water commenced in 2006. The Air Bridge Denial (ABD) was implemented in 2003, and by 2004, the program had allowed the spraying of 136,551 hectares of coca and 3,064 hectares of opium poppy. The Police air fleet sprayed another 130,000 hectares of coca in 2006, and embarked on a campaign to eradicate coca inside several national parks, including those fields in La Macarena, a FARC stronghold, with 4,500 hectares of coca.
Through 2006, Aravi was instrumental in the insertion of 5,677 EMCARs (Carabineers) in remote areas, transported 118,366 kg of cargo, and 23,116 passengers. The fixed-wing moved 1,451,102 kg of cargo and 41,244 passengers. The Police Aravi provides gun ship support and search and rescue operations for T-65 flights with their UH-60, and provides crews for AT-802 and OV-10 spraying flights.
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