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Comprehensive Action Strengthens in Post-Conflict Colombia

Comprehensive Action consolidates government and military efforts to foster development in Colombia.
Marcos Ommati/Diálogo | 11 June 2018

Brigadier General Hugo Alejandro López Barreto is in charge of the Colombian Army’s Comprehensive Action and Development Support Command. (Photo: María Carolina Gonzalez, Diálogo)

The Colombian Army’s Comprehensive Action programs, part of unified actions of the Colombian government, blend the Military Forces’ capabilities with political, economic, and social institutions. The objective is to promote development in Colombia’s different regions. The program started during President Gustavo Rojas Pinilla’s office term (1953-1957). With his experience as a lieutenant general in the Army, the president tasked Military Forces with providing social assistance to Colombia’s most vulnerable communities. Since then, the Colombian Army, Navy, and Air Force work with government agencies on programs that benefit communities in areas in need of assistance. With the end of the armed conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish), Comprehensive Action programs undergo a transformation, adjusting to the nation’s new reality. To learn more, Diálogo spoke with Brigadier General Hugo Alejandro López Barreto, commander of the Colombian Army’s Comprehensive Action and Development Support Command (CAAID, in Spanish).

Diálogo: What is the Comprehensive Action and Development Support Command?

Colombian Army Brigadier General Hugo Alejandro López Barreto, commander of the Comprehensive Action and Development Support Command: The Comprehensive Action and Development Support Command is a division-level operational unit tasked with directing Comprehensive Action and Development operations [AID, in Spanish] to back Colombian Army units, in coordination with government agencies. The goal is to create the necessary conditions to promote social recovery across the nation, on the road to consolidation.

Diálogo: Are these battalions?

Brig. Gen. López: Yes, there are two brigades, and each brigade is organized into four battalions, and we have one more battalion. It’s a special operations battalion—a special battalion—based in Bogotá. The battalion centrally coordinates all these institutions and passes it down to each division across the country. Today, we have two brigade posts: one in Cúcuta and another in Cali. We also have eight battalion command posts in each of the Army’s divisions.

Diálogo: With the exception of special operations, do the other four battalions share the same functions, or does each have a specific one?

Brig. Gen. López: In each of the battalions, we conduct comprehensive action operations, and, within those operations, there are two major missions. One is known as Militay Information Support Operations (MISO), and the other is called civil-military cooperation. Each battalion of these two comprehensive action missions works with its own department. What does it do? It supports the operating concept of the division commander, his main effort, focusing on the needs of each region and how to address these needs through Comprehensive Action. I’ll give you an example: The Second Division goes to Norte de Santander, working in Catatumbo. They conduct MISO and civil-military cooperation operations to raise awareness, build trust, and get closer to the people.

Diálogo: What is MISO?

Brig. Gen. López: MISO are duties that allow the civilian population to have much closer contact with our forces, through which we build trust. Unfortunately, this conflict—this war—left us with a lot of distrust between communities, and between the communities and our forces. Today, that has been largely overcome, but it still exists. We do MISO aimed at target audiences. Who are the target audiences? The civilian population, the enemy, and our own troops. We focus on those three. And what do we do there? With civilians, we strengthen the institutional image; with the enemy we crush their will to fight; and with our own troops, we help increase their will to fight. We improve the image of our institution and we disseminate useful information. We have quite elaborate strategic communications to persuade target audiences to further our operational objectives. During our internal conflict, it wasn’t easy to get out to these communities, but after doing a military operation, we can come in and try to be persuasive, foster a different working environment, and improve our own troops’ morale for combat. We maintain morale for our own troops, go to training academies, military districts and do activities such as campaign days for our privates and their families. It's important to emphasize that we do not only work on the military dimension. Our ground operations fighting the enemy are very important, and we mustn’t lose sight of that. After, though, we have to get out there and do our institutional coordination work, make progress, and promote development through civil and military operations. Our soldiers foster community participation through various community action boards and by working with government and nongovernmental entities.

Diálogo: What civil-military actions are conducted to improve safety in the communities?

Brig. Gen. López: Among the actions we carry out, civil-military relations are trending toward improved security. It’s clear that without security, there can’t be progress in the regions, and without security, the government can’t reach these areas. That’s why this coordination with government agencies—that involves timing, coordination, integration, and alignment of activities between the government, private sector, civil society, international cooperation, and forms of community participation for a unified effort—get to these regions, thanks to security [institutional control of the territory]. A good example is Faith in Colombia [Fe en Colombia, in Spanish], a program to coordinate with government agencies. Through international cooperation and support from the private sector, and working within a comprehensive security framework, the program improves living conditions for the most vulnerable across the nation. The Faith in Colombia program is present in the eight divisions of the Army and deploys according to each unit’s operational needs and its 18 lines of action, such as the people, productive projects, infrastructure and environment, trust building, and land, among others.

Diálogo: Do Comprehensive Action programs have anything to do with reincorporating into society the nearly 8,000 FARC members who demobilized?

Brig. Gen. López: Comprehensive Action has been an essential part of that process, working through our flagship program, Faith in Colombia, which I mentioned earlier, of MISO to improve civilian and military relations to ensure security and government control of Territorial Training and Reincorporation Spaces. Those are activities through which we seek to facilitate territorial stability and community development within the specific missions of the AID programs, such as community leadership, strengthening governance, supporting economic and social development, and improving the image of our institution.

Diálogo: Do you feel that the role your troops play is new for Colombian service members?

Brig. Gen. López: Without diminishing the Army's other missions, the role the men and women of AID programs play is perhaps the most important work any private can do. It belongs to operational synergy, which includes operations, intelligence, Comprehensive Action, and Strategic Communications. Comprehensive Action personnel need to be people with big hearts, charisma, and a desire to help—people who love their country and institution, and care for those who need them most. They have to know how to coordinate the government's capabilities with those of the private sector, serving as a great conduit between what’s available and what’s needed. And they have to know how the government works, what its plans and projects are, and where we need to deliver them. Troops in AID battalions carry out this work, focused on priority areas where we know the biggest problems lie. We aim our efforts at those communities, bring them what we have available through the Colombian government’s programs and projects. A Multi-Mission Army, Army 3.0, or Army of the Future is the first transformational part our institution adopted in the face of the country’s new dynamics, the new government proposals, and the new context we are in. It's modern, organized, trained, equipped, motivated, flexible, agile, and lethal. AID is part of our Colombian service members’ new roles. This is a new role for us, but its importance is noteworthy because we now have an organization that gives us command and control over all we have and do. Comprehensive Action troops always helped and participated in government plans to intervene in communities in need. As I said at the outset, we work for vulnerable communities since the 1950s. And today, thanks to the Damascus Doctrine, we took on the responsibility of coordinators of these processes, and we commit to the community through AID and our Defense Support and Civil Authority [ADAC, in Spanish] operations. Together with all the institutions of the defense sector, we respond to requests for assistance from civil authorities nationwide during domestic emergencies of any kind, and we support the rule of law and other activities with entities qualified to handle special situations. ADAC duties involve the deployment of personnel who are specialized in the Colombian Army’s different capabilities. That’s why our Comprehensive Action personnel must put their own specialized capabilities to use through MISO and the campaigns to improve civil-military relations needed to accomplish the mission. They are responsible for matching up our internal and external capacities and fostering a pleasant work environment coordinated, linear, and which facilitates our efforts, avoiding heavy-handed actions that might cause discord and dysfunction when carrying out their missions. Our Comprehensive Action personnel must remain in constant communication with the authorities and with the community to strengthen our good relations and consolidate their role as integrator and facilitator when carrying out their ADAC duties.

Diálogo: What are the specific functions of each AID battalion, and what is their jurisdiction?

Brig. Gen. López: Our AID battalions have specific roles and responsibilities within each of their jurisdictions. They support the divisions and carry out duties that are part of MISO, such as to:

  • Improve the image of our institution,
  • Disseminate useful information,
  • Persuade target audiences to support our operational objectives,
  • Improve troop morale for combat,
  • Reduce threats through non-lethal actions,
  • Build trust between our forces and the target audience,
  • Prevent recruitment and keep the threat from growing stronger.

Our battalions, in areas where they conduct operations in support of the divisions and task forces, carry out these duties. And our battalions also perform other activities having to do with civil-military relations, such as to:

  • Coordinate our force capabilities to help in a unified action to address the community’s needs,
  • Promote regional development,
  • Promote community participation in government programs,
  • Support armed forces of allied countries to implement the AID model,
  • Assist ethnic communities in developing projects focused on different areas,
  • Strengthen relations between the military, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and community leaders,
  • Coordinate with government agencies to respond to humanitarian crises,
  • Assist with environmental protection and preservation,
  • Interact with the community to build and maintain trust and support of our force,
  • Guide international cooperation to meet our institutional objectives,
  • Negotiate with potential sources of instability to ensure constitutional order is maintained.

It’s important to note that in all this work, we rely on a group of professional reserve officers, who engage with the institution on a voluntary basis through special courses organized and scheduled by the Ministry of Defense or by the commander of the Military Forces. Within their own professions, each of them shares their expertise with our institution to support and contribute to the territory’s social recovery, for the benefit of the vulnerable communities in each region. Everything I mentioned supports the AID program and is under one flagship program, Faith in Colombia, which brings together all our capabilities, and those of other institutions, to empower regional leaders so that they can see the problems in their communities and can participate in developing initiatives that help find problems and solutions to fix their communities’ needs—as well as coordinate our governmental capabilities.

Diálogo: How does Comprehensive Action keep the youth from joining gangs?

Brig. Gen. López: Comprehensive Action supports all Colombian Army campaigns, providing support through MISO to prevent the recruitment of minors, based on guidelines of the Humanitarian Assistance Group for Demobilized Combatants.

Diálogo: Is Comprehensive Action something that Colombia could export to other countries?

Brig. Gen. López: At this time, we work on the doctrine that will make us interoperable so that we’ll then be able to participate in international missions using the Comprehensive Action concept. We also do U.S. Southern Command-supported doctrinal exchanges with countries in Central and South America that are interested in adopting the model the Colombian Army implemented with relative success.

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