Colombia launched the integration process of its Colombia Task Force (FTC, in Spanish) to take part in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions starting in 2019. To that end, the Colombian Armed Forces are training a group of 900 service members who will integrate an international army to help countries in conflict achieve long-lasting peace.
At the September 2015 Leaders' Summit on Peacekeeping in New York, world leaders pledged to incorporate 30,000 more troops to international peacekeeping operations. Among those, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos vouched to progressively strengthen peace missions with up to 5,000 troops.
“Colombia's participation in peacekeeping operations is not just due to our president, but also the importance of using the capacities the Colombian Military Forces and National Police acquired during the conflict we endured for more than 50 years,” Colombian Air Force Major General Oswaldo Rivera Márquez, responsible for the creation of FTC, told Diálogo. “Peacekeeping missions face challenges in terms of strategy, operations, and tactics, and the country accumulated valuable capacities and knowledge, such as special operations and countering improvised explosive devices,” stated the Colombian government in a press release.
At the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial Conference held in Vancouver, Canada, in late 2017, Colombian Vice Minister of Defense Aníbal Fernández de Soto announced that 900 members of the Military Forces would make up FTC. Service members will incorporate two infantry companies, one police unit, and one combat services support unit.
“The objective is to make our acquired capacities at [the UN's] disposal, along with our human and cultural understanding of operating within local communities without affecting them,” Maj. Gen. Rivera said. “These achievements are within the framework of support and development of communities in their territories.”
Operational training is the focus of 2018, during which FTC members will take courses on human rights, international humanitarian law, and operation of UN Peacekeeping Operations commands and their doctrine. In addition, to prevent cultural transgressions, service members will learn about the culture of the countries of placement—formal deployment is set for 2019.
“This deployment of 900 people requires us to have 2,700 people. We have to train another 900 service members to relieve those we deploy,” Maj. Gen. Rivera said. “In addition, we have to be ready to receive those 900 who return. The maximum amount of time we will leave them [in a mission] will be six months to a year.”
Women in peacekeeping missions
To begin with, women will account for 8 percent of FTC personnel. That number will increase with time. According to UN, the presence of women in operations helps mitigate conflicts and confrontations, improves access and support to local women, empowers them, and fosters a greater sense of security among civilians.
“Women and men experience conflicts differently and, therefore, they also understand peace differently,” according to the UN Peacekeeping site. As such, a gender sensitive perspective is incorporated into disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration processes, as well as the participation of women in military and police contingents.
“Colombia counts with important experience with the Military Forces; we have female officers who reached the rank of general,” Colombian National Navy Vice Admiral (R) Luis Alberto Ordoñez, former commander of the Naval School and Regional Center for Strategic Security Studies, told Diálogo. “At this moment, women are reaching the ranks of naval commander or lieutenant colonel.”
Colombia in the UN
“International cooperation began in the second half of the 20th century, when Colombia began collaborating with UN during the conflict in Korea,” said Admiral (R) David René Moreno Moreno, former head of the Colombian Military Forces Joint Chiefs of Staff. “As time passed, Colombia maintained this wish to join other countries in fighting shared threats and crimes.”
Colombia took part in the Multinational Force & Observers for 35 years, monitoring the ceasefire signed between Egypt and Israel in 1979. “There is also the [Colombian] National Army's experience in Sinai, where it’s been supporting peace operations for many years,” Vice Adm. Ordoñez said. “This is not the first time, but maybe this time it has become the government's policy to participate more actively in these operations.”
“The [Colombian] National Navy, for example, sent a few of its ships to the Horn of Africa to contribute to the fight against piracy off the coast of Somalia,” said Adm. Moreno. “Participation in peace operations is the epitome. The consolidation of peace in Colombia will depend on the level of support to these missions,” Vice Adm. Ordoñez concluded.