September 6, 2019:
Since 2004 the United States has sponsored a commando and special operations competition (Fuerzas Comando) for police and military special operations forces in the Americas. The 2019 competition had teams from 19 nations and the usual winner, Colombia. came in first once more. Other nations are improving and this year the U.S. did not finish in the top five but came in sixth. That was not too shabby because the U.S. score was 2,500 points, which Colombia had 2,850, Chile 2,765, Ecuador 2,750, Panama 2,655 and Honduras 2,515.
From the beginning of the Fuerzas Comando Colombia has been the first place finisher most of the time. This is largely the result of the Colombians having the most commandos with the most experience. Since the 1990s the U.S. has been working with Colombia to develop and expand the number of commando units. This was part of an effort to reduce decades of drug gang and communist rebels violence. By 2017 that effort succeeded but the commandos still had plenty of work dealing with lesser criminal organizations.
Meanwhile, when former commandos are sought by military contractors or nations, like those in Arab oil states, Colombian commando veterans are considered among those who have been trained to Western standards. This often means veterans who did not come from Western countries. Gurkha veterans of British or Indian service are welcome, as are skilled special operations troops from anywhere. Colombian veterans, who have been fighting drug gangs and leftist rebels for decades, are often the largest national contingent. The U.S. hired a lot of Colombians for service as military contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The success of Colombia has inspired other participants in the Fuerzas Comando competitions to improve their capabilities and they have. For example, the 2016 competition was won by a team from Colombia, followed by teams from Honduras, Peru, Mexico, and the United States. There were teams from twenty nations in 2016, including 160 operators. The American teams have not gotten worse, rather the others have gotten better. A major reason for this is the other aspect of Fuerzas Comando, which has usually been seminars by senior special operations officers discussing how to develop and maintain officer quality. This is another example of the old “there are no bad troops, only bad officers.” The U.S. has long recognized this when training forces from other nations. Short and long term success depends on establishing and maintaining officer quality. Local politics and corruption often get in the way or prevent initial success from becoming permanent. One thing the top finishers in the Fuerzas Comando competitions have in common is high-quality officers. In recognition of that having become widely accepted the side events at Fuerzas Comando have begun holding seminars on developing quality career special operations NCOs (non-commissioned officers/sergeants).
Since 2009 there has been a similar event, called Warrior Competition that is open to any nation. Early ones included 27 teams from eleven nations (including the United States, China, Russia and Pakistan). The individual and team events take place over five days. By 2019 there were 37 teams from 24 countries. Nations often have multiple teams since police as well as military commandos may compete. Thus in 2015, there were 37 teams from 18 nations. Some nations, like China, see these events as a way to demonstrate the effectiveness of their relatively unknown commandos. A Chinese team won in 2014 while in 2015 a Russian team was first. The 2016 competition had a Lebanese team in first place and in 2019 teams from Brunei took first and third place while Jordan was in second place. However some of the best American, Russian and other special operations units do not compete because they are out working. This has been common for as long as these competitions have been held. Even so, the Chinese faced stiff competition and acquitted themselves well. This demonstrates how well Chinese military units can do with good leadership and sufficient money for the best equipment and lots of training. Colombian commandos have been very busy for over a decade and have had more time to compete lately because their past efforts have eliminated a lot of the rebels and drug cartels they have been fighting for years.