Colombia Is the Country to Beat in Latin America’s Commando Olympics
U.S. Southern Command brings together operators from across the Americas
by RODRIGO UGARTE
For 10 days in early May 2016, elite troops from 20 North and South American countries converged on Peru to compete for the Fuerzas Comando trophy. The contest is like the Olympics for the Americas’ Special Operations Forces.
For 19 of the armies in this year’s event, the goal was to beat Colombia’s own commandos — who, as eight-time Fuerzas Comando winners, have come to dominate the contest.
U.S. Southern Command launched the annual contest in 2004 in order to promote relationships between the participating armed forces, increase training knowledge and improve regional security. El Salvador was the inaugural host.
“It is a unique opportunity for participating nations to improve their special operations capabilities,” a Special Operations Southern Command spokesperson told War Is Boring. “This competition increases training knowledge and further inter-operability between countries’ teams.”
Although Southcom organizes the contest and its focus is on the Americas, countries from outside the region can participate in Fuerzas Comando. But this year, it was a strictly American affair.
Peru, Argentina, Chile, Panama, Paraguay, Belize, Haiti, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Jamaica, Guyana, Uruguay, Trinidad and Tobago and the United States all sent eight operators.
Representing the United States was a team from the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) based at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The Kentucky Army National Guard brought UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters to assist the Peruvian medics handling emergency rescues during the event.
Each national contingent formed a four-man assault team and a two-man sniper team as well providing an alternate soldier and a judge. The teams clashed at the Peruvian naval infantry base in Ancon, north of the capital Lima, between May 2 and 12. Scenarios ranged from crawling up a hillside undetected to storming a building where simulated enemies were holding hostages.
To win, the soldiers needed sharp minds.
“Fuerzas Comando requires our elite operators to compete in the mental realm — to be able to out-think and out-adapt their competition and, ultimately, their adversaries,” U.S. Navy admiral Kurt Tidd, the Southcom commander, told the troops during the opening ceremony. “To excel here, our teams must be flexible in their approach, yet ruthlessly disciplined in their execution — and they must be ready for any eventuality that could arise.”
There were three sections —one each for the assault team and sniper team plus a “Combined Assault Evaluation.” Each event included five lanes.
The assault and sniper teams each completed four evaluations and a stress test. Operators maneuvered through various ranges, wielding assault rifles and pistols, shooting at mobile and static targets.
The Combined Assault Evaluation, on the other hand, upped the ante. Whole teams participated in physical fitness tests, an obstacle course, a ruck march and an aquatic event before conducting the final combined assault.
The sniper evaluations included four events — Snaps and Movers, Unknown Distance, Stalk and Shoot and FBI Shoot. In Stalk and Shoot, the two-man teams crawled 3,000 meters up a rocky hill to reach a firing point. After firing their first shot, the teams reported the alphanumeric symbol on the target to the judge — and then shot again.
To pass, a team had to remain undetected the whole time.
Both sections included stress tests, requiring a team to undergo physically-demanding exercises before shooting. In the snipers’ stress test, for example, each operator dragged a sled weighing 150 pounds for 100 meters — and then engaged targets at 100 and 200 meters.
The teams’ physical and mental endurance and cooperation skills came under the most strain during the Combined Assault Evaluation. The teams hauled a Zodiac boat and a log for 500 meters each before jumping into the frigid Pacific Ocean and swimming another 500 meters. A 1,000-meter paddle followed, ending at a pistol range.
The teams also marched up one of the hills in the Santiago de Tuna district. Starting at 1,300 meters above sea level, each team marched uphill for 20 kilometers along a winding, rocky and dust-covered road surrounded by cacti. Every operator carried their weapons and a 35-pound rucksack. The finish line was at an altitude of 3,000 meters.
Fuerzas Comando’s goal, in part, is ensure that allied nations maintain similar, high standards for their Special Operations Forces — and that includes planners and commanders. While the sniper and assault teams marched and shot outdoors, staff officers met indoors for a series of academic seminars. “Much like the competitors in the field, we too will be challenged,” Tidd told the officers.
The seminars focused on transnational organized crime, national security, interagency cooperation and cyber security.
“Multinational exercises afford us an opportunity to establish strong, collaborative ties and practice working together to counter security threats and respond to contingencies,” Jose Ruiz, a Southcom spokesperson told War Is Boring. “The result is strong, regional partnerships that can respond quickly and effectively to existing, emerging or sudden threats, in both a lead or supporting role.”
Southcom declared this year’s Fuerzas Comando a success and praised the participating nations. But none was able to take the trophy from Colombia. Honduras came in second place and Peru in third.