Infanteria de Marina [Naval Infantry]
Colombian Marine Corps - ColMar
The commander of the navy’s Marine Infantry Command is advised by the marines’ chief of staff. The Marine Infantry Command has three brigades and one Riverine Task Group that patrol a total of 16,000 kilometers of rivers and coastline and are under the operational authority of the chief of naval staff; two are coastal and riverine brigades, and one is a counternarcotics brigade. The 1st Marine Infantry Brigade has three marine infantry rifle battalions, two counterguerrilla battalions, and one command and support battalion that conduct operations in 46 municipalities in Cordoba, Sucre, and Bolivar. Based in Buenaventura, the 1st Marine Infantry Riverine Brigade consists of five battalions that cover the coastal regions in the departments of Nariño, Cauca, Valle, and Choco. The 2d Marine Infantry Riverine Brigade is based in Bogotá and has battalions stationed throughout the country on the Atrato, Magdalena, Arauca, Meta, Guaviare, Caquetá, and Putumayo rivers.
All six Nodriza PAF–III riverine patrol craft are assigned to this brigade, including one on the border with Ecuador. Each of these heavy, Colombian-built, counterinsurgency ships is equipped with a small hospital, four M–60 machine guns, and a helicopter and can accommodate up to 200 soldiers. The Riverine Task Group operates out of Puerto Leguizamo in Putumayo and is responsible for the border waterways with Ecuador on the Putumayo and with Peru on the Amazon, as well as the Caquetá, Orteguaza, and Caguán. The Marine Infantry Command also has its own training center and a Logistics Support Command. The marines have their own BTR–80A armored personnel carriers.
The Marine Corps is an elite amphibious force, organized, trained and equipped with the appropriate means that contribute to the achievement of peace, the maintenance of sovereignty, institutions and the development of the country. The Marine Corps operates in the terrestrial jurisdiction assigned to the Navy, Caribbean and Pacific coastlines, the island territory and the rivers of Colombia, where the powerful ability of amphibious force allows the exercise of the fluvial and land control in their jurisdiction and support efficient naval forces when required at all times. The main objective Marines is to run amphibious, terrestrial, fluvial, special operations and defense of coasts, with the purpose of maintaining national sovereignty, control of public order in the assigned jurisdiction, provide security for land-based naval facilities and contribute to the achievement of institutional objectives of the National Navy.
Although both the US and Colombian marines share common interests and are similar in many ways, the difference in geography of the two countries means the forces have different strengths and a variety of common capabilities. Colombian marines spend a lot of their time in the jungle, and US Marines spend much of their time in urban or desert terrain. The ColMar is much different in size and composition than the US Marine Corps.
Unlike the US Marine Corps, the ColMar is part of the Colombian Navy. Most officers are graduates of their naval academy and serve in a variety of commands during their careers. Generally, a lieutenant will spend three to four years with an operational unit be-fore rotating to a non-operational unit.It is not uncommon for a newly commissioned officer to be assigned to a special forces battalion (a unit with a force recon/SEAL-type mission) or as a platoon leader with a riverine unit. Given the state of unrest in many parts of Colombia, most of the lieutenants see combat within their first year of service. The enlisted ranks of the ColMar consist of 18-month draftees, 4-year volunteers, and a solid corps of professional noncommissioned officers (NCOs). After a three-month recruit training program, most of the Marines are posted directly to one of the operational battalions. As with the officers, most of the enlisted Marines see combat within their first year.
In most of Colombia the rivers are the highways, especially in southern Colombia. Training of the Colombian riverine units becomes critical in order to control the vast amount of waterways throughout the country. The main objective of expanding the capability of the Colombian Marines is to interdict the precursor chemicals used in cocaine production that have traditionally been moved along Colombia’s rivers. It is estimated that 60 to 70 percent of these precursors reach the coca-growing areas by the rivers. The Colombian Marines have had some success in this endeavor, while demonstrating the capability to transport the first CN Brigade to riverside labs and also protecting the river convoys carrying building materials to Tres Esquinas. These riverine units have established the first continuous presence of the Colombian government in areas previously abandoned to control of narco-terrorist organizations.
The Colombian Navy (COLNAV), through one of its components, the Colombian Marine Corps (COLMAR), is responsible for controlling its national rivers including denying their use to the Narco-terrorists Organizations (ONT) as a means of transporting collateral materials from urban centers to the drug-processing labs in the jungle, and then from the jungle to their improvised wharves on the coast. COLMAR also has military jurisdiction over a portion of the northern Colombian territory known as “Montes de Maria”, considered to be the unit’s mobility corridor to the Atlantic coast.
The Colombian riverine force contains two types of units differentiated by size and capacity. The units of large displacement and greater capacity include the Riverine Gunboats (Cañonero Fluvial CF) and both the Heavy Riverine Support Patrol Boat (Patrullera de Apoyo Fluvial Pesado PAFP) and the Light (Patrullera de Apoyo Fluvial Liviano PAFL). Their main purpose is to provide logistical support and troop transport and to facilitate operations of long duration and autonomy. The smaller riverine vessels include the Riverine Patrol Boat (Patrulleras Fluviales PF), the Fast Riverine Patrol Boat (Patrulleras Rápidas Fluviales PRF), Armored Troop Carriers (Transportes Blindados de Tropa TBT), tugboats (Remolcadores Fluviales RF), the Riverine Combat Elements Heavy (Elemento de Combate Fluvial Pesado ECFP) and Light (Elemento de Combate Fluvial Liviano ECFL), Riverine Support Boats (Botes de Apoyo Fluvial BAF), and Riverine Support Stations (Estacion Movil de Apoyo Fluvial EMAF).
Between 2000 and 2009, the US State and Defense departments provided over $89 million to help sustain and expand Colombian Navy and Marine interdiction efforts. According to Defense, from January to June 2007, an estimated 70 percent of Colombia's cocaine was smuggled out of the country using go-fast vessels, fishing boats, and other forms of maritime transport. State and Defense support for the Colombian Navy is designed to help improve their capacity to stop drug traffickers from using Colombia's Caribbean and Pacific coasts to conduct drug-trafficking activities. US State and Defense support for the Colombian Marines is designed to help gain control of Colombia's network of navigable rivers, which traffickers use to transport precursor chemicals and finished products. According to Colombian Ministry of Defense officials, the number of metric tons of cocaine seized by the Navy and Marines represented over half of all cocaine seized by Colombia in 2007.
For the Colombian Marines, State and Defense provided support for infrastructure development (such as docks and hangars), 95 patrol boats, weapons, ammunition, fuel, communications equipment, night vision goggles, and engines. Colombia's rivers serve as a vital transport network and are used to transport the precursor chemicals used to make cocaine and heroin, as well as to deliver the final product to ports on Colombia's Caribbean and Pacific coasts. According to State, up to 40 percent of the cocaine transported in Colombia moves through the complex river network in Colombia's south-central region to the southwestern coastal shore.
According to U.S. Southern Command officials, the key challenge facing the riverine program is a general lack of resources given the scope of the problem. The Colombian marines maintain a permanent presence on only about one-third of Colombia's nearly 8,000 miles of navigable rivers. As of 2009 US embassy planning documents set a goal of helping the Colombian Marines achieve a coverage rate of at least 60 percent by 2010.
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