Faithful to Duty
By Dialogo April 01, 2013
Daysi Carolina Danker/Diálogo staff
When Lebanese Soldiers see the Salvadoran flag on the Soldiers’ uniforms, they recognize them as friends and place their right hand over their heart. The gesture symbolizes the good relationship Salvadorans have developed in distant lands as defenders of world peace.
“These things immediately identify the Salvadorans, who are well-loved by the Lebanese personnel,” said Colonel Carlos Alfredo Hernández of the Salvadoran Army. He commanded El Salvador’s 6th contingent of 52 Soldiers deployed in Lebanon from September 2011 to July 2012. His mission was to serve as a Blue Helmet of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and supervise the ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon.
Coming from a nation that lived through a 12-year civil war, many Salvadoran Soldiers feel it is their duty to help other nations achieve peace. In addition to UNIFIL, El Salvador participates in the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), the U.N. Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), the U.N. Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) and the U.N. Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI).
Since 2011, Salvadoran troops also have been in Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) led by NATO and established by the U.N. Security Council. “The objective is to help the Afghan Government extend and exercise its authority and influence in the territory, as well as to create the conditions necessary for the country’s postwar reconstruction and stabilization,” Major General César Adonay Acosta Bonilla, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces of El Salvador told Diálogo in September 2012.
In the Middle East
Salvadoran troops have been part of UNIFIL since June 2008. They are assigned to the infantry unit of the Spanish contingent.
“We are working within this division of UNIFIL so that one day the responsibility may be transferred to the Lebanese Armed Forces, but until that happens, the United Nations must maintain control in order to supervise the cease in hostilities,” Col. Hernández explained.
In September 2012, the eighth rotation of Salvadoran troops that would travel to Lebanon was undergoing training in tasks such as organization, humanitarian aid, humanitarian law and human rights before leaving for Zaragoza, Spain. They train there for three months, forming special teams for humanitarian demining, the medical corps, and the infantry, which is responsible for patrolling the border alongside Lebanese Armed Forces. The mission lasts 10 months.
Likewise, personnel from the third rotation to be deployed in Afghanistan were preparing to make up two teams that would advise and train the Afghan Police and Afghan Air Force.
El Salvador is expanding its peacekeeping missions abroad. In February 2013, the country sent its first military contingent to join the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), according to the Salvadoran Ministry of Defense. The 34 Soldiers have been carrying out patrols and security activities for six months. While this is the first Salvadoran Military contingent in Haiti, the country has sent 14 members of the National Civil Police on peacekeeping missions in Haiti in the past.
From 2003 to 2008, El Salvador was the only Latin American country to maintain troops in Iraq. Some 4,000 Salvadoran Soldiers from the Cuscatlán Battalion participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom by providing help with peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, reconstruction and security. According to Maj. Gen. Acosta, the first contingents contributed to the organization and training of the Iraqi Police and Army.
Approximately 7 million Iraqis benefited from more than 350 projects, including electric lighting; sanitation; water distribution; construction of health clinics, schools and bridges; and improvement in communications. Maj. Gen. Acosta said projects valued at more than $24 million were implemented, with funds provided by the U.S. and other countries of the coalition. More than 190 civic actions were carried out by Salvadorans in Iraq to foster ties with communities.
He believes Salvadoran Soldiers embark on such missions knowing they are important for their country. The Soldiers also are aware of the challenges they will face, such as differences in culture, language, religion and customs, as well as separation from their families, adverse weather conditions and the time difference. “Nevertheless, our Soldiers are admirable and easily adapt to these conditions. They are very friendly and do not have trouble adapting,” he said.
The mission in Iraq left five Salvadoran Soldiers dead and 55 wounded. “We have paid our dues for peace in Iraq,” Maj. Gen. Acosta said. “As Salvadoran Soldiers, we devotedly execute the mission given to us.”