Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Salvador "reups" for Iraq

This has been in the news here, but finally it took a news release from the Armed Forces Information Service for this to make it to the web:

El Salvador to Continue Iraq Deployment
By Jim GaramoneAmerican Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 22, 2004 – El Salvador has "reupped" and will continue its deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, DoD officials said today.

El Salvador has had infantry and special forces personnel in Iraq since August 2003. The unit is part of the Multinational Division Central/South.

El Salvador is actually increasing its commitment. The country is sending 380 soldiers to Iraq, up from 360. "Given the size of the country and the size of the armed forces, this is a significant commitment," said Roger Pardo-Maurer, the deputy assistant defense secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs. [This is true--the Philippines, for example, a country 12 times the population of El Salvador, only had had 50 troops there until their pull-out last week.]

El Salvadoran troops first went to Iraq as part of a Central American battalion. Troops from Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic were part of the Spanish-led brigade. [But they all left.] The Salvadoran troops provided security in the city of Najaf. "They performed 'shrine security,'" Pardo-Maurer said. [I thought this was supposed to have been a humanitarian mission?]

It was there that they distinguished themselves. In early April, the illegal militia of Muqtada al Sadr attacked a 16-member El Salvadoran squad. The Salvadoran troops fought until they ran out of ammunition and then fought with knives, said Pardo-Maurer. They held on until coalition forces broke through. One soldier was killed and several wounded in the hand-to-hand fighting. "They are very high-quality soldiers," he said. [The war stories grow wilder as the months go on...]

The troops now work with U.S. forces in the area, and will probably stay in the same location for the next deployment. [That's not what the press here has reported--rather that they would move to a safer location.]

Twenty years ago, El Salvador was going through its own version of hell. The country was wrecked by a civil war. El Salvador is now a democracy and has adopted a free trade policy. [Nice to see an implicit admission that democracy and free trade are not exactly the same thing.] The military is under civilian control. "Now the country is an exporter of security," Pardo-Maurer said.

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