Colombia has a new military command to confront narcotrafficking and transnational threats — the Command Against Drug Trafficking and Transnational Threats (CONAT, in Spanish).
Diálogo had the opportunity to visit CONAT’s facilities to talk with its commander, Colombian Army Brigadier General Walther Adrián Giraldo Jiménez, and to learn about the progress made since the command’s creation and its strategies to face Colombia’s challenges in the fight against the country’s criminal organizations.
Diálogo: CONAT was established in February 2021. One year after its creation, what are the results in the fight against armed groups?
Colombian Army Brigadier General Walther Adrián Giraldo Jiménez, commander of the Command Against Drug Trafficking and Transnational Threats: This great initiative, which is part of the State’s plans, was cemented in February 2021, and was where we concentrated all our efforts in this ongoing fight against transnational threats. I think it has been a great success; this year alone [until March 2022], we’ve really managed to hit all these threats, especially in the fight against narcotrafficking, illicit mining, and all the structures, both internal and transnational, and affect them to achieve results of great impact. In March alone, we captured 900 [criminals], neutralized more than 81 of these groups, and seized weapons and cocaine hydrochloride, which shows the full scope of the Colombian State’s power in these struggles.
Diálogo: One of CONAT’s goals is to combat narcotrafficking organizations. How have you managed to achieve this objective?
Brig. Gen. Giraldo: This has really been a giant step forward, because, although we already had units created to eradicate crops and combat [criminal] structures, by bringing them together and creating these brigades focused on eradication, the efforts have been centralized, and we’ve been able to optimize our resources with our own capabilities, but also with the coordination of all the agencies that support us at the national and international level — and in this the United States has played, as always, a predominant role. We’ve been able to strengthen our efforts; we’ve been able to increase our seizures and almost double what we had projected as a goal last year, which was 60 tons; we seized 100 tons — speaking only of cocaine hydrochloride — and the laboratories, we had projected [to hit] 60 nitrate-producing laboratories, and we managed to destroy 105.
Diálogo: How is CONAT structured to fulfill its strategic mission?
Gen. Giraldo: We have five brigades, three of which are already made up: our 1st Brigade Against Drug Trafficking, which is focused purely on interdiction; our Brigade Against the Illicit Extraction of Mining Deposits, which pursues everything that has to do with illegal mining; and our Deployment Force Against Transnational Threats, which seeks to neutralize all these structures that have to do with the illicit economy. The national government decided to create two very important brigades against narcotrafficking, which are the 2nd and 3rd Anti-Narcotics Brigades that focus on eradication.
Diálogo: How do you coordinate your operations with the Brigade against the Illicit Exploitation of Mineral Deposits?
Gen. Giraldo: This is a special brigade, a joint brigade that has been in existence for more than six years, and its successes have really been quite great. It has national coverage and its staff structure allows it to carry out operations with all the forces, coordinated with the National Police and interinstitutional operations with all state agencies, specifically with the Attorney General’s Office. Last year  we were able to destroy more than 268 dredges, 187 construction machines that were illegally acquired, and more than 460 illicit mining sites, which prevented the destruction of more than 2,000 hectares [of land] due to illicit mining. We continue with the frontal fight against narcotrafficking and the preservation of the environment; these two activities in Colombia really constitute the illicit economy that allows the growth of these groups and that affect not only the national territory but the whole region, since these monies and resources are also hitting other states that have already begun to see the effects of narcotrafficking and illegal mining.
Diálogo: What kind of training do CONAT personnel receive?
Gen. Giraldo: It’s a special discipline apart from the basic training they receive as soldiers. The training they receive is highly selective within the force. First, it establishes their principles and values, and they are men who stood out at the local level, that is, they’ve carried out operations throughout the territory, and once they are selected, they take the lancero, paratrooper, special forces, and air assault courses. This makes them different; it allows them to carry out operations of the highest complexity, not only in normal areas within the territory, but also in areas of greater complexity.
Diálogo: How do you conduct your training, is it done only at the national level or do you receive international support?
Brig. Gen. Giraldo: We’ve received great support from all our agencies and international cooperation as well, with the support of U.S. Southern Command on an ongoing basis, from the [U.S.] Department of State, and from intelligence agencies that represent Colombia’s great alliance with the world. We’ve received training and equipment and we’ve reached such a high level that our men have gone to train and prepare armies in Central and South America and we’ve conducted training in all continents, as part of international cooperation and coordination.