El Salvador Conducts Rapid Response Operations Against Gangs

El Salvador Conducts Rapid Response Operations Against Gangs

By Lorena Baires / Diálogo
December 20, 2019

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The Salvadoran Armed Force infiltrates urban areas affected by high murder and extortion rates, using drones and helicopters.

The Salvadoran Armed Force (FAES, in Spanish) has deployed 10 task forces in the urban areas of the 22 municipalities most affected by violence, increasing the participation of soldiers, drones, and helicopters in rapid response operations to neutralize territorial control points of the MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs. More than 7,300 elite service members take part in this mission.

“Rapid response operations allow us to fulfill specific goals, thanks to task forces, units with rigorous field methods, and a high level of efficiency,” Army Colonel Carlos Alberto Tejada, chairman of FAES’ Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Diálogo. “Gangs continue to be involved in drug and migrant trafficking and are connected to transnational criminal organizations; that’s why it’s important to complement the job with patrols, checkpoints, and a permanent presence in cities.”

The work strengthens the implementation of Territorial Control Plan III, which the Ministry of Justice and Security launched in August 2019 to regain control of cities where gangs derive their highest profit by extorting merchants. “We are in areas where both gangs [MS-13 and Barrio 18] operate, sometimes separated by only a street. In one of the operations, 60 gang members engaged in drug and arms trafficking were arrested,” Salvadoran Army Lieutenant Colonel Lisandro Calderón, commander of Task Force Vulcano, San Salvador department, told Diálogo. “The effectiveness of our work can be seen in the decrease in murders.”

Task forces control 200 neighborhoods in urban municipal areas that are included in the plan. “Our presence on the ground makes criminals leave urban areas for rural areas, where task forces are also present,” Salvadoran Army Colonel José Herrera, commander of Task Force Apollo in La Libertad department, told Diálogo. “We attack [narcotrafficking] and increase the arrests of the most wanted criminals, who are all associated with gangs.”

“We conduct tactical actions onsite, thanks to the intelligence work all units perform,” Col. Tejada added. “Our effectiveness also has to do with our units’ constant training, thanks to the support of the United States and other partner nations that help us, such as Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico.”

As a specialized resource, the Armed Force has long-range reconnaissance patrols that are part of the Special Operations Group. “These are trained groups with night goggles and heavy weapons, skilled to perform infiltrations with air and naval means,” Col. Tejada concluded.