General Eduardo Enrique Zapateiro Altamiranda, commander of the Colombian Army, is committed to the fight against the country’s organized and remnant armed groups with international cooperation to confront transnational narcotrafficking threats. Diálogo spoke with Gen. Zapateiro about these issues at the Army Command headquarters in Bogotá.
Diálogo: What are the Colombian Army’s new capabilities for combating illegal armed groups, such as the Clan del Golfo, the National Liberation Army, armed dissident groups, and narcotrafficking?
General Eduardo Enrique Zapateiro Altamiranda, commander of the Colombian Army: We have carried out different operations, and created special units in charge of territorial control, which we intend to later institutionalize. Today the strategic concept is to serve as a link among these remote areas, where it’s difficult for institutions to access local and departmental governments; this has helped us to have better villages, regions, and a better country. Operations like Artemis, aimed at environmental protection, and Horus have helped us control drug transit corridors these outlaw groups use. We have carried out many operations against these leaders, who continue trying to spread the scourge of narcotrafficking, which is still the common denominator in all the threats and problems that we have not only in the country, but also in the region, on the continent, and in the world. And in that endeavor, we are working with our best partner and friend, the United States, and its Army.
Diálogo: What’s the latest in human rights and international humanitarian law training?
Gen. Zapateiro: We are in training schools, teaching from the beginning of the instruction process for that future officer, noncommissioned officer (NCO), and soldier, to educate and train them in human rights and international humanitarian law. Likewise, the curriculum includes these topics in each course moving up to the next higher grade. We have the School of Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law, and Legal Affairs, which specializes in these training areas, teaching training and specialization courses to strengthen institutional education. Today, for example, we have new learning scenarios in the training fields, and one of those scenarios is how we should relate and interact with our farmers in remote areas; what our role as platoon and battalion commanders should be when relating to different communities, to protect and safeguard vulnerable populations at all times.
Diálogo: What is the goal of the Army’s Commission for Military Excellence?
Gen. Zapateiro: This commission, which President Iván Duque created and appointed, consisted of respected figures in the country that were responsible for reviewing, guiding, and recommending to the national government the adjustments that they considered appropriate for different regulations, which in the field of human rights and international humanitarian law were issued by the Colombian Military and Police Forces. I made a presentation to the commission to show what we teach our officers, NCOs, and soldiers in schools, both in instruction, combat training, knowledge, and practices with regard to human rights and international humanitarian law. There are many stories of all the operations we have carried out throughout the country, where [our personnel] respect the human condition of a criminal or combatant who surrenders; if they are injured in combat, our nurses will assist them immediately. The Commission reviewed our Army’s planning in this type of operations. The report we received at the end was very positive, as it shows the correct and professional way that our soldiers, officers, NCOs, command staff, and troops behave in an upright, transparent manner, respecting the national and international standards in force on the battlefield.
Diálogo: What kind of collaboration and cooperation do you have with U.S. Army South?
Gen. Zapateiro: We have continuously connected and communicated with the previous Army South commander, Major General Daniel Walrath, who ended his term in June 2021. I attended the ceremony for the new commander, Major General William L. Thigpen, and it was the first time in the history of the U.S. Army that a partner nation’s army commander attended the ceremony. I believe this strengthens the bonds of friendship and the commitment we’ve had in training projects. The guidance that we have now throughout the country, with five task forces, is very important for combating the scourge of narcotrafficking, in addition to the great support in the creation of CONAT [Command Against Drug Trafficking and Transnational Threats].
Diálogo: Colombia requested an extension under the Ottawa Convention to clear the country of anti-personnel mines by 2025, as part of the humanitarian demining operational plan. What is the progress to date?
Gen. Zapateiro: We have delivered 29 municipalities totally free of any anti-personnel mines, and we are working on 11 other municipalities. We have the humanitarian demining brigade, and we are going to grow. We have a team with the United Nations, and we want to strengthen the humanitarian demining efforts, so as to reach other parts of the world and contribute our knowledge in this type of war against anti-personnel mines. We are fulfilling our duties to the country. We have seen that the government has returned land to its original owners, who were displaced from those contaminated areas.