INTRODUCTION: In El Salvador, government forces have been carrying out search and destroy missions against insurgents in the mountain regions of the Cabanas Province.
CABANAS & CUSCATLAN PROVINCES, EL SALVADOR ( 10 & 12 JULY, 1981 ) (REUTERS - CARLOS ROSAS)
GV Troops lining up for meal, food being served. (3 SHOTS)
SV Soldiers eating at table. (2 SHOTS)
SV Soldier cleaning breech bolt.
SV & GV Soldiers preparing to move out. (4 SHOTS)
SV & CU Civilian with home gun. (2 SHOTS)
GVs Trucks driving out of village. (2 SHOTS)
LV & SV Troops in jungle. (2 SHOTS)
GVs Civilian volunteers with rifles, joining army patrol. (3 SHOTS)
GV Patrol on jungle track.
GVs Artillery battery in cleaning. (2 SHOTS)
CU Army radio operator.
SV Army and civilian patrol crossing jungle. (2 SHOTS)
GV Scene of ambush on road, with covered body.
Background: INTRODUCTION: In El Salvador, government forces have been carrying out search and destroy missions against insurgents in the mountain regions of the Cabanas Province. Despite the presence of Army units in the provinces, Colonel Benjamin Mejia and his wife were murdered in a roadside ambush on sunday (12 July) 35 kilometres (21 miles) east of the capital San Salvador.
This elite Army unit is trained by United States military advisers o seek out rebel strongholds. They have fortified a local school in the Cabanas Province as a base from which they carry out their anti-insurgent operations in the nearby mountains.
The battalion is part of a 1500 man force and takes its names from the legendary El Salvador Indian chief, Atlacatl.
Described as a 'rapid reaction force' these men have been engaged in sporadic and sometimes heavy combat with leftist-led revolutionary forces in the densely-forested mountains. Many of the American advisers are Green Berets who fought in Vietnam. Most are Hispanic and speak spanish fluently.
The civilian militia joined the anti-insurgent operation. Some are armed with some home made weapons. Known as Orden Troops, the 90 volunteers share their weapons during six hour shifts. Eleven of the Orden were killed in January this year when the revolutionary forces launched a nationwide military offensive. Nine more died recently in a mine explosion. In these operations, five soldiers have been killed and eight wounded, in clashes with the guerrillas.
The troops are backed by American - supplied helicopters and small jet fighters which bomb the guerilla bases ahead of the strike force.
The militiamen and the green uniformed combat troops move cautiously through the narrow roads and heavy tropical undergrowth. They search abandoned mud brick houses and the cornfields overgrown with weeds, looking for signs of the presence of the insurgents. They also face the task of clearing road blocks erected by the guerrillas.
This soccer field makes an ideal site for the supporting artillery and allows the gunners to fire high into the mountain strongholds. A senior military spokesman said this operation might only last three days, depending on the guerrilla strength in the area.
Since the outbreak of el Salvador's civil war in January, the pro-leftist villagers have fled to the hills leaving their hamlets to pro-government peasants who are protected by the Army.
One of the most recent victims of killings in El Salvador was colonel Benjamin Mejia. The colonel and his wife were shot as they drove.
Two cars with about ten gunmen armed with rifles forced their vehicle to halt, and Colonel Mejia and his wife were shot by the roadside. The colonel took part in an attempted coup in 1973, and was generally regarded as a man with left-wing sympathies.