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El Salvador Deploys Special Force to Hunt Down Violent Gang Leaders

  • Ken Schwartz

FILE - Two men are detained and searched by police in a park after a 911 call alerted police of possible gang members carrying assault rifles, in Ilopango, El Salvador, Aug. 31, 2015.

FILE - Two men are detained and searched by police in a park after a 911 call alerted police of possible gang members carrying assault rifles, in Ilopango, El Salvador, Aug. 31, 2015.

El Salvador has deployed a heavily armed special police force to hunt down gang leaders who have made the Central American nation one of the world's most violent and deadly places to live, the government said Wednesday.

The force includes 600 army commandos and 400 specially trained elite police officers using assault rifles, helicopters and armored trucks.

Vice President Oscar Ortiz said no effort will be spared to capture gang leaders who have caused so much bloodshed and grief.

"We are going to go after them in the countryside and in the city. We are going to hit those who try to create disorder," Ortiz said.

He calls the force a new hope for El Salvador.

The president's office says the mission has three major objectives: neutralize organized crime gangs, arrest the top 100 leaders, and stop those members responsible for murder.

"Our success is not based on how many bullets are fired," force commander Howard Cotto said Wednesday. "Our success will be based on the trust our citizens feel when you see [police] in the territories at night, in the rain, in the worst conditions [so] our people can say, 'Here's our police and our armed forces to defend [us].’ "

The new force is part of a general crackdown in El Salvador against gangs.

Experts who study gangs say the reason young men hook up with such violent groups may be less about drugs and weapons trafficking, and more about poverty and a lack of education and job opportunities.

El Salvador is said to be the world's most dangerous country that is not at war. The murder rate is 104 for every 100,000 people — 22 murders a day, in a population of 6.3 million.

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