Colombian K-9s Help Rid Country of IEDs
By Yolima Dussán/Diálogo August 01, 2017The use of dogs has grown in Colombia over the last 10 years. With 2,797 dogs, the Colombian Army provides nationwide coverage for detecting narcotics and explosive substances, doing search and rescue, and detection and tracking. With the excellent results that have been achieved, the goal now is to increase their participation in all operations. The United Nations recently certified a group of Colombian K-9 teams trained in humanitarian demining, with which the units were ready for deployment across Colombian territory. Following the certification process, U.S. Army South veterinary personnel visited the Canine Training School at Fort Tolemaida in June with the purpose of learning about the Colombian experience in breeding and training dogs to detect landmines as part of a humanitarian demining program led by the National Center for Countering IEDs and Mines (CENAM, per its Spanish acronym). Both armies exchanged knowledge on breeding and training dogs for this purpose as well as shared information on the veterinary care each undertakes. . Aligned procedures “At the end of their tour [of the visit], and after all of the program presentations, their conclusions recorded the points that our two armies have in common when using dogs under the same conditions, both in the way that [we make use of] their capabilities and our rigorous training and breeding methods, as well as in terms of health and hygiene,” Colombian Army Colonel Jorge Armando Ramírez Troncoso, head of the Canine Directorate at CENAM, told Diálogo. “With regard to this last point, we got specific feedback on veterinary care and the use of medications,” he added. In Colombia, dogs are used especially for detecting explosive substances. “Since 1998, when we began [devoting them] to the detection of explosive substances, these little animals have made a great contribution to the Army,” Colombian Army Colonel Eddy Bladimir Moscoso Castiblanco, commander of CENAM, told Diálogo. “Today, the K-9 team is essential for detecting explosives, working together with a metal detector, hook-and-line equipment, and the explosives technician.” More dogs and resources The Canine Directorate has big projects within its program, which includes building four modern hospital units that will be strategically distributed across the country. The Warren Buffett Foundation awarded a $16 million donation for the development of this project. The dog breeds that perform best in the training, and afterwards, in the most grueling weather conditions and terrain, are Labradors, Belgian Malinois, and Golden Retrievers. Dog training takes four months, and it starts at the same time with the service member for that K-9 team. Their relationship cannot be dissolved except in extreme circumstances. A dog trained to detect explosives has an active service life of five years. The Colombian Army soon expects to have the 5,000 dogs it needs for its operations. “We are lacking dogs and resources. Currently, we are purchasing between 600 and 800 dogs a year. That’s why we started breeding them in kennels. The goal is to become self-sufficient in the short term. [The dogs] are put through a rigorous selection process. Not all of them meet the requirements,” Col. Ramírez said. CENAM’s strategy The Canine Directorate was established in 2016 as part of the National Center for Countering IEDs and Mines, which was created in 2012 because of the country’s internal conflict, and as a response to the need arising from the indiscriminate use of mines and IEDs by guerrilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army, and by drug traffickers against the civilian population and infrastructure, and directly against members of the Colombian Army and National Police. This specialized unit was needed in order to learn everything about explosive substances, the ways in which mines are used, and the emergence of IEDs made from a wide range of supplies. “A solid structure was needed to counteract the use of these mines,” Col. Moscoso stated. “We need to see explosives as a system, and it is only through a well-coordinated system that we will be able to reduce the use of these explosive charges.” More than 23,000 explosive devices destroyed In Colombia, the problem of mines and explosives of all kinds has had critical periods. According to official sources, these events increased to an average of 2.5 injuries per day since 2008. By 2012, the outlook for victims of explosives was devastating. The statistics at that time said there were more than 7,000 victims. The creation of CENAM became a priority for the Colombian government and for the Colombian Armed Forces. “Throughout this process, SOUTHCOM made a definitive contribution. It was, and is, our greatest ally. From the start, it helped us with the creation of this unit,” Col. Moscoso explained. “They sent personnel to orient us on how to set up a functional structure. We received instruction, training, supplies, financing, and resources. It’s a collaboration that continues today and is still evolving. Right now, our main effort is framed by humanitarian demining,” he explained. CENAM operates along three lines of action—preparedness, prevention, and protection—and through six bodies: the Directorate of Military Demining, the Directorate of Investigation, the Directorate of Innovation, the Directorate of Humanitarian Demining, the Directorate of Mine Warfare, and the Canine Directorate. From 2013 to 2017, these law-enforcement bodies destroyed 23,878 explosive devices.