MARFORSOUTH Trains Salvadoran Marine Battalion

U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South (MARFORSOUTH) is set to expand its training program for the Salvadoran Naval Force’s (FNES, in Spanish) Marine Battalion (BIM, in Spanish), to increase tactical and operational skills of elite groups in the fight against narcotrafficking networks and transnational criminal groups, such as the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs.
Lorena Baires / Diálogo | 15 July 2019

Capacity Building

Elements of the Trident Naval Force and Cuscatlán Joint Group patrol Salvadoran waters. (Photo: Gloria Cañas, Diálogo)

This cooperation effort was established during a visit from U.S. Marine Corps Major General Michael F. Fahey III, MARFORSOUTH commander, to Salvadoran marines, May 13, 2019.

“The focus of the training is to make our personnel more professional and efficient on the terrain. We'll strengthen elite units that combat crime,” said FNES Lieutenant Commander David Jiménez, BIM commander. “We always count on the cooperation of U.S. marines for our training in the fight against emerging threats.”

BIM supports the Neptune Task Force, a rapid-intervention anti-gang team; the Trident Naval Force, an elite antinarcotics group; and the Cuscatlán Joint Group, an interagency team that fights large-scale drug smuggling. “Training improves our operational readiness, because they are updated based on how criminals change day by day,” Lieutenant Miguel Luna, BIM instructor, told Diálogo. “Marines must face changing scenarios, not only to counter gangs, but also narcotrafficking. That’s why it’s important to keep up to date with close-combat strategies and infiltrations.”

Gang structures are complex; they operate aggressively, hiding behind fronts that seem legal. “Gangs change their ways; they show their strength and what they’re capable of,” said Captain René Merino, Salvadoran minister of Defense. “We won't wait until gangs grow stronger; that's why we update and operate dynamically, according to our current reality.”

FNES is known for its results in the region. From 2015 to 2018, service members seized about 25,000 kilograms of drugs. This level of efficiency is possible thanks to the continuous training and instruction MARFORSOUTH provides.

U.S. Marine Corps Major General Michael F. Fahey III, commander of Marine Corps Forces, South (left), visited FNES to know about the training and instruction needs for the fight against regional threats. (Photo: MARFORSOUTH)

“All our personnel receive basic and advanced marine courses that U.S. personnel teach, because we are FNES’s collision force against emerging threats,” said Lt. Luna. “The training we receive helps marines become specialized, hence its excellent results.”

“What makes us stronger are tactics used in the field against criminals. For example, how to evacuate hostages, how to enter houses seized by gangs, how to infiltrate ships in open waters,” Capt. Jiménez added. “We’re a growing battalion, and MARFORSOUTH’s training is essential in this process.”

The support from different U.S. antinarcotics agencies is key to improving the results obtained, according to the U.S. Department of State's 2019 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. “Cocaine seizures in 2018 [12.4 tons] increased 120 percent compared to the same period in 2017 [4.4 tons], due to the GEAN [Special Antinarcotics Group] and Salvadoran Navy’s increased cooperation and intelligence-driven operations with U.S. maritime authorities,” the document indicated.

The permanent presence of Salvadoran marines forces narcotraffickers to move through international waters in the Pacific Ocean in low-profile semisubmersibles. That is why FNES designed a permanent surveillance shield, which extends beyond 200 nautical miles. Surveillance operates around the clock, with specialized teams on constant alert.

Despite limited resources, BIM's work in different elite groups is highly regarded. “The results obtained are robust. We are considered one of the most efficient navies in the fight against narcotrafficking,” Capt. Merino said. “Last year [2018] we seized 6,380 kg of drugs in one operation, and it was one of the 15 largest ocean seizures worldwide. The level of professionalism and operational capability among our people is high, as well as our operational capability. We are grateful for the permanent cooperation we receive to protect our region from emerging threats,” Capt. Jiménez concluded.

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