The Command Against Drug Trafficking and Transnational Threats (CONAT, in Spanish) began operations in Colombia on February 26, 2021, as an elite force consisting of 7,000 men and women of the Colombian Army to lead the fight against armed groups, carry out interdiction operations against narcotrafficking organizations, conduct strategic eradication operations of illicit crops, and combat illegal mining. To talk about CONAT, Diálogo visited the command premises and spoke with its commander, Colombian Army Brigadier General Juan Carlos Correa Consuegra.
Diálogo: What are CONAT’s main objectives?
Colombian Army Brigadier General Juan Carlos Correa Consuegra, CONAT commander: Colombia is a very privileged country due to its geostrategic position. However, while it has a number of natural resources that help maintain the country’s biodiversity, it has also been exploited by transnational threats, especially narcotrafficking, due to its outlets to two seas, the difficulties of its jungle terrain, and illegal mining groups that destroy the environment. The Army decided to combine all our capabilities into a single unit, so as to analyze this problem in a unified and holistic way and become the spearhead in the direct fight against these threats.
Diálogo: What are CONAT’s strategies in Colombia’s fight against these transnational threats?
Brig. Gen. Correa: The first strategy is to view the problem holistically, since these threats are part of a system, what we call a “vicious circle.” We look at narcotrafficking not as an isolated problem, but as a system, since it seeks other, alternative ways to obtain its resources and maintain illegal armed organizations both in the country and in the world. The second strategy is to link our capabilities, as we combat narcotrafficking along its entire criminal chain. The third is to link intelligence and operations, since we work with our own components and those of our armed forces, as well as other national and international agencies. The fourth is to strengthen ties of cooperation within the State, together with neighboring countries and friends.
Diálogo: What is CONAT’s structure, and what type of special training will the troops who compose it receive?
Brig. Gen. Correa: CONAT is under the Air Assault Aviation Division, which has three aviation brigades: training, maintenance, and operations. CONAT is organized into five brigades, each with different capabilities and missions. We have a Deployment Force against Transnational Threats, capable of executing special forces operations, created to target command and control structures and finances of groups that are involved in narcotrafficking and transnational threats. We have three brigades against narcotrafficking: N.º 1 in charge of interdictions and with special capabilities for air assault and special operations, and N.º 2 and N.º 3, which recently completed their training process and will lead the strategic eradication. Finally, we have the Brigade against Illegal Mining, which works jointly with, among others, the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development and the Ministry of Mines and Energy, as well as organizations that combat environmental impact.
Diálogo: How does CONAT handle the concept of interoperability?
Brig. Gen. Correa: We rely on doctrines that we have designed in Colombia, which are compatible with U.S. doctrine and that of NATO [the North Atlantic Treaty Organization], with strategic, operational, and tactical concepts, adapted to the national context. Our organization is based on NATO in order to be interoperable with other countries. This year we had two interoperability opportunities, with one platoon that participated in the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Once the platoon returned, the U.S. Army 82nd Parachute Division visited us, and we carried out parachute jumps and tactical exercises.
Diálogo: Is CONAT likely to receive international support, particularly from the United States?
Brig. Gen. Correa: We have a long-standing friendship and partnership with the United States. The United States continues supporting us in training and equipment, which helps us to strengthen our distinctive CONAT capabilities.
Diálogo: What does CONAT hope to achieve?
Brig. Gen. Correa: For 2021, we set out to seize 60 tons of cocaine hydrochloride; we have already seized more than 65 tons of this narcotic, exceeding the total of the previous year and the proposed goal. Our short-term goal is to end this year with record numbers in terms of the impact on criminal groups and the reduction of their capabilities. We want to continue that strengthening to link intelligence and capabilities both in Colombia and other countries, in order to decisively hamper these organizations. In the medium term, the National Army will create the Army Air Assault Corps, consisting of the Air Assault Division and CONAT; the latter will become a Division against Drug Trafficking and Transnational Threats, which will enable us to grow in capabilities and scope. With this model, we want to be a benchmark in the international arena.