The Agrupación de Fuerzas Especiales Antiterroristas Urbanas (Urban Counter-Terrorism Special Forces Group, AFEUR) is an elite unit of the Colombian Army, whose primary mission is to perform counter-terrorist operations and hostage rescues based on stealth, surprise and team work.
VIP protection is another task of the unit. For example, they protect the Colombian President when he travels, and provided protection for President Bill Clinton’s (Army group) and President George W. Bush visits to Cartagena, in 2000 and 2004 respectively.
This unit answers directly to the Commando General de las Fuerzas Armadas (Armed Forces Joint Staff), and they are allowed to use any military air transportation to guarantee mobility, and to use any weapon or additional equipment as required to accomplish their missions.
Due to terrorist acts conducted in cities by guerrilla groups, the Colombian Army needed a specially trained unit to deal with this threat. This unit was required to be able to both operate and co-ordinate operations with other units of the army, or from other military branches.
Although Colombia’s 40-year long conflict with guerrilla groups had given many reasons for such a unit to exist, two terrorist acts in particular worked as catalysts in the formation the unit: the Dominican embassy siege in 1980 and the Palace of Justice siege (Colombian Supreme Court) in 1985.
As the unit’s experience grew, and its rate of success increased, in 2003 the Colombian Government decided to establish other units assigned to main cities across the nation. Such units are smaller in size, and trained by the main group, and all operate under the AFEUR name.
In the same year, the Colombian Navy also deployed its own AFEUR unit attached to the Marine Corps. Although trained by the Army unit, the Navy unit specializes in underwater infiltration training akin to its amphibious nature. This unit is intended to have the same capabilities as its Army counterpart, and so far their main task has been to support Special Forces or other conventional Marine Corps units when operating in semi-urban areas. However it is likely that the unit also took part in the operation to provide protection to President George W. Bush during his visit to Cartagena in December 2004.
Recruiting and Training
Members of all branches of the Military of Colombia and the National Police are eligible to join AFEUR. Such personnel are required to have no criminal record, and have likely to have already received previous special training such as Colombian Army’s Lancero course, or other training abroad.
Training takes place at the Colombian Army’s Communications School in Facatativa near Bogota (which also serves as unit headquarters), and includes airborne operations, night operations, and Close Quarters Combat (CQC). It is divided in two phases: the first focuses on team work, whilst the second focuses on special skills such as explosives training, paramedic training, sharpshooting and marksmanship, amongst others.
The main AFEUR group also shares training with Special Forces units from other countries – mostly likely with the U.S., due to the military cooperation agreement established between the two governments, and also perhaps with the UK (although this is less known due to the low profile the UK military like to keep in their operations).
The full effectiveness of this unit is not known, however due to the constant training and exposure to live operations, AFEUR should be regarded as a top class operation. Reports from the media and official sources states that this unit has been involved in every top profile operation against guerrilla groups, in both preventive strikes and emergency response actions in urban and semi-urban areas all across Colombia, though details are kept in secret.
On the other hand AFEUR won the “Fuerzas Comando 2005” (Commando Forces 2005) contest, that took place in Chile in June 2005 lasting two weeks.
This yearly contest sponsored by the US South Command and the US Special Operations Command with similar teams from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, U.S., Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Dominican Republic, Peru and Uruguay.
The AFEUR team was made up of six operators, two from the Army, three from the Navy, one from the Air Force, two of them snipers. All operators were selected from the actual Army and Navy AFEUR groups performing real operations.
Though having a hard time on the physical fitness test, they performed outstandingly in sharpshooting, being the only team shooting targets beyond 1Km, assault force, stalking hunt, and marksmanship tests.
The following year 2006, and by second time in a row, the team won the same contest, this time “Fuerzas Comando 2006” in Paraguay. The team, three operators from the Army, two from the Air Force and two from the Navy, showed a similar performance compared to the previous year, with snipping and team work courses as their main strengths.