El Salvador has deployed a new special unit to fight criminal gangs that are now said to be operating not only in the cities, but in rural areas throughout the country. The 1,000-strong Specialized Reaction Force is equipped with helicopters, armored cars and assault weapons.
A mixed unit of 600 military troops and 400 National Police agents, it is charged with "pursuing and neutralizing" the gangs, which are said to have 70,000 members in the country. At an April 20 ceremony to unveil the new force, Vice President Oscar Ortiz said: "The moment has come to stop the scale of violence which has imposed itself in the last few years on our country and which has created so much blood and sacrifice… We are going to go after them in the countryside and in the city." He added that human rights will be respected.
El Salvador recently surpassed Honduras to become the "murder capital of the western hemisphere." The breakdown of a truce between the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs in 2014 has led to a spike in homicides, this year reaching over 20 a day—a level not seen since the end of the country's civil war in 1992.