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Major Victor M.

Rodlo, US Army

In recentmonths, the frequency ofinsurgent attacks against S&


vadoran governntent forces and facilities has dmmaticall~
increased, culminating with the all-out attack on San Salvador in
November. The author alerts us to a relatively unknown and
unpublicized aspect ofthis continuing co&&t- that ofa sign&
cant contribution to the insurgent forces of the Farabnndr~Marti
National Liberation Front being provided by Vietrtam. He offers
several documented examples of how weap~rons and training are
havingan impact.

T IS NO secret that during the decade of


the 198Os, the Vietnamese Communists
e actively supported the insurgency in El
Salvador. This cxtemal sqxxt, particularly
specializedcommando training, has helped the Farabundo Marti National Uberatlon Front
Salvadoran insurgents to score stunning tac- [Fk4lS)
tical successessuchas the spectacularatracksof APPROXIMATE STREt4GTH: 7500
fortified brigade compounds and a military 3000
FPL- Fuerzas Populares de Liberaciirn
training center. These successesr&t directly (Popular Liberation Forces)
from the fusing of external twining and support ERP- Ejhcito Revolucionario del Pueblo 2aaa
with the insurgents own inherent strengths in (Peoples Revolutionary Army)
the areas of operxional planning and tactical FARN- Fuerzas Armadas de Resistencia 900
execution. National (Armed Forces of National
Resistance)
The Farabundo FAL- Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacibn 4%
(Armed Forces of Liberation)
Mational Liberation Front PKTC- Partido Rsvolucionario de Trabajadores 350
The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Centroamericanos(RevolutionaryParty of
Front (Fh4LN) is the umbrella orgmization for CentralAmericanWorkers)
the five insurgent factions in El Salvador and is information from The Militar Balance 1QS&lBEQ.
widely regarded as one of the most combat- The International lnstilute Yor Strategic Studies.

MILITARY REVIEW. January ,990 71


ment and independent news sources, particu-
larly American and foreign correspc)ndents.
have documenred accounts of this support.4
150ct81 - Puente De Ore destroyed (key The FMLNs hemispheric brethren, Cubas
bridge over Lempa River)
Fidel Casrm and Nicaraguas President Daniel
27 Jan 62 - llopango AFB attacked (22
Ortega, keep this supply network operational.5
aircraft damaged or
destroyed) After repeated denials, Ortega finally admitted,
4th Brigade Headquarters in 1987, that Nicaragua secretly supplied the
31 Dee 63 -
compound, El Paraiso, FMLN insurgents with weapons,6
attacked In addition to Cuba and Nicaragua, other
1 Jan84 - Cuscatlan Bridge destroyed countries participate in the sustainment 0f
(key bridge over Lempa River) this effort. One of the more important extra-
20 Jun 64 - Cerr6n Grande Dam attacked hemispheric communist sources of support is
(equipment damaged/
the Socialist Republic of Vietnar~~.~
destroyed)
10Oct65 - Salvadoran military training
center, La Union, attacked
19 Jan 66 - 3d Brigade Headquarters
compound, San Miguel, covered when USmanufactured M-16 and
attacked AR-15 rifles, left in South Vietnam after US
31 Mar 67 - 4th Brigade Headquarters involvement there, appeared in the hands of
compound, El Paraiso, Salvadoran insurgents. This is not surprising
attacked (2d time) since Le Duan, the former executive secretary
17Feb66 - 6th Brigade Headquarters
compound, Usulut~n,
of the Vietnamese Communist Party, had
attacked agreed, in 1980, to assist ths FMLN.9 During a
11 wty86- 5 November Dam attacked visit to Cuba in 1983, Vietnamese foreign min-
(equipment damaged/ ister, Nguyen Co Thach, praised the efforts
destroyed) made by the Salvadoran insurgents and ex-
136ap66- 4th Brigade Headquarters presstvi his confidence in their ultimate vic-
compound. El Paraiso, tory.
attacked (3d time)
Vietnamese support to the FMLN extends
lNov68- National Guard Headquarters
compound, San Salvador,
hqand oratorical flou,ristes and the shipment
attacked of arms. It also includes training and doctrinal
23DecE6- EMCFA Headquarters com- imtrucrion. As early as 1981, an insurgent
~t~wu&an Salvador, leader informed a US newspaper correspondent
that Vietnamese advisers had made trips to
16Feb69 - IXQFA Headquarters com- guerrilla camps in El Salvador. Other sources
pound, La Paz, attacked reported that Central American guerrillas (not
BAprE#- ,4th Brigade Headquarters specified) rraiwf in Vietnam.2
compound. El Paraiso,
attacked (4th time) Dicctosures by the FMLN reveal that upon
cornplecion of basic military training in El Sat-
vador, insurgents with leadership potential
went on to receive more specialized training
abroad-in Cuba, various Eastern European
countries and Viemam.~
In 1985, the diary of captured FMLN
Cornandante, Nidia Diaz, listed 33 Salva-

72 January1990 l MILITARYREVIEW
dorm guerrillas sent to training cou~scs in
Vietnam, Bulgaria, East Germany, and the
Soviet Union in 1984 and 19RS.~* Diaz,
herself, was scheduled to attend training in
Vietnam.
As demonstrated earlier, Vietnamese offi-
cials and members of the FMLN have admitted
tie existence of a connection, acknowledging
the training of FMLN insurgents in Viemam.
An important question, therefore, arises: What
benefits does the FMLN derive from a close
association with the Viemamese?
On occasion, Salvadoran military reporting
hints at those benefits. One area reflecting per-
vasive Vietnamese influence is the extensive
use of mines by the FMLN. Captured insurgent
documents reveal the extent of this effect:
It is worth noting that [an analysis ofj cap-
tured IFMLNI documents on mine and booby
trap employment lreveal that the documents]
were originally prepared in Hanoi . .I5
Although such reports offer only a small Sam-
pling of the extent of the connection, the
impact has been unprecedented in scope.6
During 1984, Salvadoran insurgents increased
their use of mine warfare. In the 1987-1988
midyearreparringperiodalone, the Salvadoran
armed forces suffered a total of 2,019 casualties,
of which 465 re&lted in deaths.17 Tbii is con-
sistent with the high annual casualty average of The FMLM hemispheric bretbre~,
aroundZ,COG reportedsince 1983. Consistently CubasFidel Castroand NicaraguasPres&
between 45-80 percent of these casualties result dent Daniel Ottega, keep tbh supply net-
from mines. Civilians are also victims of the work ope&onal Mer repeated de&,
indiscriminate minings.* Primarily homemade Ortega tinally-ed, in 1987, that
in fabrication, mines come in various shapes Nicamguasecretiysu LiedthelMLN
and sizes and may be either pressure or corn- ;Is*ellts WitlKeapom.
mand detonated. They are normally made of
wood, glass bottles, tin cans or plastic conduit Vietnamesesupportto the FMZN
tuhing.g extendsbeyond oratotical tlourishesand
Miguel Castellanos, a guerrilla cornan- theshipmentof2ums.Ikakoinch&stmb~
dame who defected from the FMLN in 1985, ing and doctrinalinstruction. As early as
provides more revealing insights on the type 1981, an insurgentleader informeda US
of training offered by the Viemainese Corn- newspaper wrres~ndent that Vietnam
munists. eseadv&e~hadmadet+pstoguerilla
During a recent interview, Castellanos stated campsin El Salvador.
that he attended a three-month politiw
January ,990 l MILITARY REVIEW
MILITARY REVIEW. January ,990
75
and intense fire . At 0215, as rhc n,Ortar
Thevery character of the concentrations reached a crescendos, the ass&t
FMth% Spfxiai commando opemtions in groups commenced their efforts to breach the
Ee$;dg; confirms that this traininghas defensive obstacles The mortar fire 011
. . . At 0200,31 Ma& 1987, a the defensive pasirion was augmented by
gzvupofeqx~y trainedlMZNcomman~ machine gun sections and rifle grenades,2~
dos attacked the fortified compound of The El Panfso-styte attack was nor the first of
the 4th Brigade Headquarters + . . its kind against a Salvadoran fortified brigade
The opemtion~leti- one US Army adviser compound. A year earlier on 19 June 1986, the
and 69 Salvadoran military personnel deadly scenario had been previously enacted
dead and approximately 79 wounded. when FMLN commandos infiltrated and
attacked the 3d Brigade Headquarters corn-
pound in San Miguel Department, resulting in
an equally high numher of Salvadoran military
sent for the training, admitted that it is likely casualties.3o
that instruction <,c.arred.~~ Ar0130,lO Qctober 1985, FMLN cornman-
The very character of the FMLNs special dos attacked the Salvadoran Military Training
commando operations in El Salvador confirms Center in La Union Department leaving ap
that this training has taken place. Some exam- proximately 40 military personnel dead, 68
ples are worth noeting:. wounded and 10 FMLN infiltrators killed in
At 0200,3 1 March 1987, a group of expertly action.
trained FMLN commandos attacked the for- Fe attack] began with a volley of
tified compound of the 4th Brigade Headquar- rocket fire . Guerrilla squads pen+ted the
ters in El Pa&so, Chalatenango Department.27
The operation left one LJS Army adviser and
69 Salvadoran military personnel dead and
Although El Salvador i certainly
approximately 79 worm&d. Eight FMLN com-
not Vietnam and the MLN is not the
mandos were kilted in action. A news article
Wetnamese National Liberation Front,it
described the operation asfollows:
is evident that Salvadoran insurgents seek
:4t about 2 a.m. the attack . hcgan
to benefit from the combat experience of
with a barrage of mortar fire and rockets that set
the Vietnamese Communists to improve
several buildings afire. Guerrillas next cut the
their own merrilla
perimeter wires and raced in with satchel
charges, blowing up barracks and raking dazed
defenders with automatic weapons tire.28
A comparison :,f this news account with a perimeter and droppd grenadesinto barracks
1969 Marine Corps Gazette article describing a of sleeping troops . From about 100 yard.%
classic North Vietnamese Army sapper atrack other rebels fir&I 90,millimeter recoilless rifle
reveals some startlin,g similarities even in rela- rounds, RPG-7 rockets and mortars pointy
tion to the time of attack: blank into the tin-sheered barracks.
A comparison of this action with a 1969 arti,
de on View&North Viemamese ArmySW
pers, printed in an issue of Ir&nq MwW,
again notes similarities:
one first indication of a sapper a&k USU-
ally is a prepararory attack by mortars and

January ,990. MILITARY REVIEW


76
MILITA~RV REVIEW l Jammy 1990 77
is ominously clear:
Sad to say, we cannot counter revolutionary
war even nw-our defeat in Vietnam has
taught us nothing. After a lengthy study of low
intensity cc&k; . a high-Level Joint Study
Group. concluded in a study dared 1 August
1986 that The United States does not under,
stand h-intensity conflict nor does it display
the capability to adequately defend against
it, :J4l&,_

NOTES

January 1990. MILITARY REVIEW