A contingent of 200 Salvadoran troops returned home from Iraq on Saturday, having finished security and reconstruction tasks that took place over five and a half years, official sources reported.
Early on Saturday, after arriving at the Comalapa Air Base, 44 kilometers southeast of San Salvador, soldiers of the Special Forces belonging to the eleventh contingent of the Cuscatlán Battalion had medical checkups after turning in their weapons and equipment.
The Comalapa Base soldiers were moved to San Salvador in approximately twenty trucks, which displayed the flags of El Salvador and Iraq.
Upon entering the capital, the troop stopped before the image of Cristo de La Paz, where the military bishop, Fabio Colindres, conducted a liturgical act of "thanksgiving."
During their stay in the Iraqi cities of Najaf, Diwaniyah, Al Hillah, and Al Kut, the Salvadoran troops suffered five deaths and twenty injuries.
Colonel César Acosta, the battalion commander, said he felt "proud to have successfully completed the mission."
During their presence in Iraq, according to Colonel Acosta, Salvadoran troops worked on 353 reconstructions and 191 humanitarian aid projects, which benefitted seven million Iraqis.
"It was a great experience to have shared the effort and to work shoulder to shoulder with many countries, and to work toward a single goal: to provide stability and support the peace in Iraq," said Colonel Acosta to the AFP.
The soldiers hugged their families at the end of the official ceremony at the Comando de Apoyo de Transmisiones (CATFA) as music and songs from the Salvadoran Cuscatlán Battalion played.
The soldiers presented their families with souvenirs, including figurines of camels and bronze plates with images of historic monuments in Iraq.
Major and pilot Alejandro Coto said he felt "tremendous joy to be returning unharmed" and reunited with his family.
Sergeant Eduardo Argueta said that his stay in Iraq has left him with “profound emotions” after seeing such “amazing poverty” in a country so rich in oil.
In August of 2003, according to an agreement with the United States, El Salvador sent its troops to Iraq, but left after two months under the UN Security Council resolution 1546, which gave the interim Iraqi government full functions and authority.
Salvadoran troops began their withdrawal after December 23rd, when President Elias Antonio Saca announced the end of the mission under UN Security Council resolution 1959, which ordered the termination of the peace force.
El Salvador was the only Latin American country that remained in Iraq until the end of the UN mandate on December 31st.