U.S. Army South (ARSOUTH) is training five specialized commands of the Armed Force of El Salvador (FAES, in Spanish). The courses focus on new search procedures, information, and intelligence gathering in high-crime areas and combating serious emerging threats in the Western Hemisphere.
“We designed a training program [starting in February] 2018,” explains Army Colonel Ángel Lima, chief of staff of the FAES General Staff. “The program will strengthen our troops' tactical leadership skills to improve performance, security levels, positive seizure results, border protection and anti-gang operations, as well as combat drug trafficking.”
The five specialized commands participating in the training are part of a strategic effort called New Dawn Campaign Plan (Plan de Campaña Nuevo Amanecer), which focuses on national security. The commands will carry out joint missions with the Civil National Police nationwide. Zeus Command has 3,100 members focused on reinforcing security on the streets of 50 of the country's most dangerous municipalities. San Carlos Command’s 1,200 service members are deployed along the perimeters of the country's 19 penitentiaries. Sumpul Command counts with 1,000 soldiers distributed over 300 unofficial border crossings. Águila Command, composed of 2,300 service members, is responsible for patrolling the areas surrounding the schools most affected by gang violence. And with 300 elite officers, Trueno Command directly engages the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs.
Officers and noncommissioned officers from each command take part in the training. “ARSOUTH’s support is invaluable,” Salvadoran Minister of Defense David Munguía Payés said. “This year we revamped the training calendar. This allows us to more effectively provide national defense [training] and confront threats such as narcotrafficking, human trafficking, and other crimes.”
“These commitments are important to our national security and help promote a more stable region,” U.S. Army Major Jimmy Isakson, desk officer for El Salvador at ARSOUTH, said during training planning. “Criminal networks in Central America cause regional instability and increase the crime rate and drug trafficking, which is of concern to everyone.”
Exchange of experiences
The training calendar includes 10 courses per year, two for each command, each lasting four weeks. Armies from Central American and Caribbean nations participate in some of these training activities, also seeking to increase security in their respective countries.
An example of this was the Regional Course Against Transnational Crime taught in February and March 2018. FAES and the Civil National Police led the course at the Regional Training Center Against Transnational Crime (CRACCT, in Spanish) in the municipality of Ilopango. Fifteen service members from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic attended to learn new border search and control techniques, as well as measures against gang and drug trafficking activities. The objective of the course was to carry out combined practical training exercises to raise the operating level of each participating country.
“We performed a combined exercise in which we intercepted a car suspected of transporting drugs. We were able to verify that procedures are similar throughout the region and we shared experiences from each country,” said Salvadoran Army First Lieutenant Edgardo Avilés, one of the participants. “We were able to eliminate mistakes, for instance by checking areas that some had missed, like the tire rims.”
The participation of multiple regional armies in this type of exercise helps standardize approaches across similar operations. “We shared all available information to fight emerging crime affecting the region,” said Army Colonel Manfredo Guzmán, CRACCT commander. “They are the same [crimes], but criminals operate differently in every country. Now all of us are attacking them with the same strategy.”
Training with ARSOUTH allows for improvements in the work of commands that make up the New Dawn Campaign Plan. In 2016, Zeus Command seized 281 firearms and 5,223 drug packets from gangs. In 2017, it seized 400 firearms and 18,000 drug packets. San Carlos Command seized 500 rounds of ammunition in 2016 and 55,000 in 2017.
“The results these commands show derive, in large part, from the training with ARSOUTH, which improves our units’ skills,” said Col. Lima. “Participants transfer their knowledge to fellow service members to strengthen the troops.”
Sumpul Command seized 10,000 contraband items along unofficial border crossings in 2016, and increased that number to 60,000 in 2017. In addition, Águila Command boosted its suspicious vehicle searches from 78,000 in 2016 to 135,000 in 2017.
FAES incorporates the knowledge gained from these trainings into its Regular Training Program, known as PAR15, in which groups of 100 to 125 service members from all commands participate. “I taught my soldiers everything I learned from ARSOUTH, as well as the errors we corrected. We are all grateful for this professional growth, and we hope to advance even more in future ARSOUTH trainings,” Lt. Avilés said.
ARSOUTH provides training for armies of other partner nations, such as Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Peru. The mission is to promote bilateral alliances and analyze how to continue efforts to counter organized transnational threats.