El Salvador's Armed Forces Receive New Vehicles to Fight Violent Street Gangs

The Armed Forces will use the new vehicles to provide public safety in regions where gangs and criminals operate.
Lorena Montserrat Cárcamo Baires | 19 January 2016

On November 24th, the Salvadoran Armed Forces received a new fleet of 47 pick-up trucks from the government. Since June 2014, FAES has worked closely with the National Civil Police to fight gangs. [Photo: Gloria Cañas]

El Salvador's Armed Forces (FAES) have received a new fleet of 47 pick-up trucks to respond rapidly to emergency calls from civilians reporting criminal attacks. The vehicles will be deployed on preventive operations, surveillance and deterrence patrols, and anti-gang missions.

“The Armed Forces’ work is fundamental to building a society of peaceful coexistence,” President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, FAES' Commander in Chief, said during the ceremony delivering the vehicles on November 24th. “Service members have assumed the responsibility and commitment to the mission of supporting security efforts to protect Salvadoran families. This has earned the population’s trust.”

The FAES has been cooperating with the National Civil Police (PNC) to dismantle Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 (M-18) – two of the country's violent street gangs – since June 2014. “The effectiveness of units committed to supporting public security will be substantially improved thanks to this fleet of vehicles. We are grateful for the support given to us and promise to continue working to bring security and tranquility to Salvadorans,” said Minister of Defense David Munguía Payés.

The procurement of the new fleet is part of a budget addition of US$13 million that was allocated for national defense and approved by the Legislative Assembly in Decree No. 44 on July 9, 2015. The FAES organizes its security operations through the “Nuevo Amanecer” [A New Dawn] campaign and are entrusted to the special commands “Zeus,” “Sumpul,” “San Carlos,” “Águila,” and “Trueno.”

FAES fights gangs in high-crime zones

The Zeus Command has 2,821 service members deployed in 42 high-crime zones. This command is divided into nine Task Forces whose primary activities are searching persons and vehicles, conducting patrols, and arresting criminals.

“We feel peaceful having the Soldiers nearby in our communities and near our homes. We know that if we ask them for help, they will come without fear,” said Julio Aníbal Vega, a 53-year-old carpenter and resident of the town of Ilopango. “I believe the gangs will think twice when they see the Armed Forces are in the area, and we hope [the FAES] doesn’t leave.”

The FAES will use the new vehicles to conduct patrols, surveillance, and operations against criminals and gangs. [Photo: Gloria Cañas]

In 2015, the Zeus Command captured 5,815 suspects, seized 591 firearms, confiscated 103,651 units of drugs and US$29,629 in cash. The Sumpul Command, which has more than 1,000 Troops, is responsible for combating the smuggling of drugs, weapons, livestock, stolen vehicles, grain, clothing, cigarettes, and liquor along the 375-kilometer Salvadoran land border.

“We have been supplying the transportation needs of the Armed Forces Logistics Bureau, but these vehicles will let us increase our response capacity and improve the mobility of our Troops in serving citizens,” said 1st Lieutenant René Benítez, Commanding Officer of the Sumpul Command.

In 2015, the Sumpul Command seized 521 firearms; 29,681 units of drugs; 193 head of smuggled livestock; 24,512 items of smuggled clothing; and US$22,220 in cash.

Commands work to dismantle violent gangs

The Águila and Trueno Commands, with 1,302 service members and 600 officers respectively, have the single mission of combating and eradicating gangs. "Soldiers participate in the ‘Safe House’ operations, in which they enter houses and search to ensure to that no one is hiding illegal weapons or drugs,” explained Patricia Elena Segovia, a university student living in a crowded condominium building in San Salvador's historic center. “They have also removed gang members who were squatting in abandoned residences.”

From January to December 2015, the Águila and Trueno Commands conducted thousands of security operations and detained 2,896 suspects.

“Without a doubt, our institutions’ security mission is extremely important and vital for the comprehensive development of our country,” President Sánchez Cerén said at the end of his speech. “The mission therefore requires that we expand their technical and human capabilities to fight crime effectively.”

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