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US seen building case for more aid for war-torn El Salvador

By Daniel SoutherlandStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / July 14, 1981


The United States appear to be preparing a case for significant increases -- over the long term -- in both its military and economic aid to El Salvador. This could involve, among the other things, providing El Salvador with US- built fighter-bombers for the first time, and, over the next several years, nearly doubling the size of the Salvadoran army.

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Several months after the first US military training teams were sent to El Salvador and Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. declared that the small Central American nation was on a Soviet "hit list," the war against leftis-led guerrillas continues inconclusively. US Ambassador Deane R. Hinton reports that the two sides have fought to a draw. If the conflict is allowed to continue at its present pace, the sharp economic decline of the country could undermine political and military gains.

Assessments by US officials indicate that without substantial increases in its strength and mobility, the Salvadoran Army will not be able to go on the offensive. As it is, according to a report cabled last month to the US State Department by Ambassador Hinton, the guerrillas can attack "when and where they want." They can be contained, but not defeated.

In an interview with reporters July 10, Hinton said it was a "continuing infiltration of arms" from Cuba, and apparently from Nicaragua, which was enabling the guerrillas to fight the Salvadoran armed forces to a standoff.

Thomas O. Enders, the new assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, is expected to outline the Reagan administration's policy toward El Salvador in greater detail in a speech he is to deliver on July 16. Mr. Enders is expected to respond to critics who charge that the Reagan administration is overemphasizing military aid to El Salvador without taking into account the economic, social, and political dimensions of the struggle there.

The US mission in El Salvador has warned that because of guerrilla attacks, political uncertainty, capital flight, and low coffee prices, among other factors, economic decline is the gravest immediate danger to El Salvador. That decline will continue, reports from the mission assert, unless the country is provided with "substantially larger" amounts of economic assistance. One report to Washington argues that El Salvador be given the most generous financing terms available, including a high percentage of grant aid.

Given budgetary constraints and attitudes in the US Congress, however, the administration is not expected to make any new requests for aid in the near future. A request for the appropriation of $25 million in military aid and $75 million in economic assistance to El Salvador for the fiscal year 1982 is expected to be voted on in the Congress either before the end of this month or in September. But some of the recommendations now under consideration by the administration would clearly go beyond those levels.

In a report to the State Department last month, Ambassador Hinton disclosed that El Salvador's military leaders think it will be necessary nearly to double the size of the Salvadoran Army from its current 12,000 to about 23,000 by the end of 1985. This would allow the Army, it is argued, to develop several mobile infantry brigades capable of operating in El Salvador's difficult terrain, on a self-sustaining basis, over long periods of time. At the moment, the Army has only one US-trained rapid-action battalion. The Navy and Air Force would be expanded as well.