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El Salvador

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Parent Issue
Month
July
Year
1986
Copyright
Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held By
Agenda Publications
OCR Text

xjLmerican bombs and bullets delivered by American supplied aircraft have been killing Salvadoran civilians and destroying Salvadoran villages since 1982. In 1984 alone, 2,339 people died as a result of the air war combined with ground sweeps, according to the human rights group America's Watch. More recently, a military campaign by the Salvadoran government called "Operation Phoenix," begun earlier this year, has attempted to surround and depopulate the area of the Guazapa Volcano near the capital of San Salvador using a combination of ground troops and offensive aircraft, including A-37 attack bombers and AC47 gunships. This área has long been a center of resistance to the government and a sanctuary for civilians fleeing death squads. The House Foreign Operations Subcommittee is right now (late June) considering a half billion dollar aid package for El Salvador. The amount of aid they finally agree on and the restrictions - if any - that they place on its use, will ultimately determine the fate of thousands of innocent Salvadoran people. It may be arguable that the most important thing to know about the air war in El Salvador at this time is that it exists: that villages are being destroyed, including schools and hospitals, that civilians are being killed, maimed, wounded, and forced to fice as refugees. That reality in itself has frequently been denied or discounted by the Reagan administration and the mainstream news media. For a brief period earlier this year, with bombs falling only a few miles from the capital of San Salvador and the Archbishop (CONT. ON PAGE 12) WAR IN CENTRAL AMERICA FOCUS: EL SALVADOR The Air War: What is an "AC-47" or an "A-37" anyway? (continued from page 1) Rivera y Damas himsclf denouncing the bombing of civilians, the existcnce of the U.S. sponsored air war bricfly made the news, but the media have now again fallen silent on the subject. Its not easy for the average civilian to know just what it's all about. What is an "AC-47" or an "A-37" anyway? I think it is helpful in understanding the nature of the war to try to decipher the meaning of some of the Air Force nomenclature that is used and to know the design and properties of the weapons bcing used. The intent of this article is not so much to detail specific events in the air war, but more, to provide some background for understanding such events when rcad about elsewhere. Current information on the U.S. aircraft now being used in El Salvador is difficult to come by. The government keeps a low profile on the subject and the press have not aggressively reponed the issue It is mainly in the gungho mercenary publications such as Soldier of Fortune, whose reporters gleefully go into "Indian Country" to gun down "Gs" (guerrillas) and to blast away at "communist hootches" that one can leam the technical details of the war. Another source of informaüon is in aviation and military publications from the Vietnam War era when most of the weapons were developed. With some modification and adaptation, the "counterinsurgency" weapons of Vietnam are the weapons of the Salvadoran air war and represent the "state of the art" U.S. technology for fighting revolutionary movements in the Third World. Counterinsurgency warfare requires different tactics and different weapons than conventional warfare. Fighters in a popular guerrilla war ("insurgents") do not usually bothcr to defend positions if they can avoid it and do not generally attack heavily defended enemy positions. They move around in relative freedom with the support and aid of the population and appear and disappear from view, attack or retreat as is convenient to their purpose. To combat this type of warfare the government employs traditional counterinsurgency tactics: fïrst lócate the fighters and then rapidly bring troops, bombs, guns etc. to attack them before they slip away Another aspect of traditional counterinsurgency strategy is the isolation of the guerrillas from the population that supports them, either by forcing the people into "strategie hamlets" whcre they can be watched or by terrorizing and depopulating guerrilla strongholds through bombings and subscquent ground swceps. In Vietnam a variety of different weapons and tactics were devcloped over the coursc of the war to accomplish these ends. Many of them are now in use in El Salvador, sometimes in modified form, against the fighters of the FMLN and the people of the "zones of popular control". The military doctrine of "low intensity warfare" is the version of counterinsurgency theory currently in vogue in the Pentagon. It recognizes, to a degree, that Third World revolution is the result of structural problems in the particular country and proposes that the goal of U.S. policy should be in managing the inevitable process of change so that rcsults favorable to supposed U.S. interests are produced. This involves a "carrot and stick" approach of militarily fighting the guerrillas and their supporters with one hand while engaging in "nation-building", "civic action" and various forms of psychological and ideological warfare with the other in order to win the population away from the path of radical change. Whilc this is not fundamentally different from countcr-insurgcncy doctrine in the Vietnam era, that counterinsurgency doctrine was, in practice, not consistently and systematically pursued in Vietnam. Today "low intensity warfare" is, at least for the moment, the dominant theory of U.S. military planners, with a particular emphasis on using local and not U.S. military forces to put it into effect. Of course, the fact that a supposedly integrated and sophisticated military doctrine has gained ascendency is no guarantee that it is actually possible to paper over the deep cracks of inequality and injustice in a country like El Salvador, or that if theoretically possible, that the Salvadoran military is capable of carrying it out effectively. The point to keep in mind in the context of this article with respect to "low intensity" doctrine is that the air war is not the total picture. The Reagan Administration is seeking to engineer Salvadoran society to fit its own version of reality using whatever means it has at its disposal, including the most intensive bombing campaign in the history of the Western Hemisphere. From the Editors: We are often asked why there is so much emphasis in Agenda on Central America. The answer is simple: The United States is fighting a war in Central America. To cali it anything less is to ignore the f acts. In his speeech on the press and Central America (June, Agenda), journalist Alexander Cockburn called one component of the war, the air war in El Salvador, "the heaviest bombing campaign ever conducted in the Americas." Y et, Cockburn observed, the press (with the exception of two reporters), "absolutely ignored it even though they could lie in bed in the hotel in San Salvador and hear the distant vibrations of the bombsfalling on the [Guazapa] vólcano." Beyond the obvious question of why the press ignore it is the very basic question of what is going on and why? Nicaragua does demand a great deal of our attention, perhaps just enough to keep us from seeing the total picture - the total war in Central America being waged on many fronts by the United States gover nment. And even as we go to press (June 27), the stakes have been raised. The appropriation of $100 million to the contras, already a foregone conclusión with the 221-209 House vote, has now expanded the perameters of the debate. The question now is: Shouldn't we also send advisors to help supervise all that aid? What was not even talked about yesterday is debatable and considered appropriate today, and the way things are going, will be a reality tomorrow. The Weapons of the Air War The weaponry that U.S. taxpayers are providing to the Salvadoran military is not exactly a secret. Then again it is not exactly a matter of easily accessible public record. The Reagan Administration has been less than forthright about informing the American public and even the Congress about what it is doing in Central America. A report issued by the House Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus in 1985 detailed many examples of inaccurate, misleading and simply false information given by the Administration as to the uses to which monies appropriated by Congress for El Salvador were put. In addition, many of the aircraft described below were initially sent to El Salvador in "civilian" or "utility" or "trainer" versions that were later refitted with offensive weaponry. OV-1 "Mohawk" These reconnaissance planes have been making daily flights over the countryside since early in 1984. Flown by U.S. pilots, they are based at a secret airfield in Palmerola, Honduras. C-130 This is a modified cargo plane loaded with electronic surveillance equipment and operated by U.S. personnel that flies over El Salvador from a base in Panama. Both of these planes are equipped with sophisticated infra-red scopes capable of sensing the heat of human beings and of human activities from high altitudes during night flights. Much of this remóte sensing technology was developed at the University of Michigan in a long-term classified research project in the 1960's. O-2 The Cessna 0-2 (the "O" labels it as an "observation" plane) was originally designed as a civilian businessman's airplane. It's design allows a wide field of view to the pilot and it was adapted for military use in Vietnam for general visual reconnaissance and as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) to identify and mark "targets" in conjunction with "strike" aircraft. In El Salvador these planes are reportedly equipped with up to 28 2.75 in. white phosphorus incendiary rockets on their wings, ostensibly for marking targets. The Salvadoran Air Force, however, often uses them to burn crops, forest cover, villages, and of course, people. The U.S. has supplied 11 of these aircraft to the Salvadoran govemment. Three A-37s appeared one after the other each dropping nose-first in a screaming dive, then pulling up and over leaving a huge BOOM on the ridge just beyond us. Again and again, taking turns until each had dropped its payload ofsix. The jets kept roaring in dr des over the next ridge, but there were no more bombs. Instead, the obscene squirt ofelectronic miniguns." - Christina Courtwright, President of Medical Aid lo El Salvador, recently returnedfrom the war zone. In the early 1960's when the Air Force began looking for a new "COIN" (counterinsurgency) aircraft, a variety of companies put designs into the competition. The winner was a modified version of the Cessna T-37 already in use as a trainer jet by the Air Force. The new design was called the A-37. The "A" stands for "attack." In Air Force terminology, an attack aircraft generally is designed to make "tactical" strikes against small or mobile targets or to provide "close air support" to troops in battlefïeld situations. Bombers, such as the B-52, generally are intended to make more massive and longer range bombardments of large "strategie" targets. The A-37 is a relatively small jet. lts simplicity, reliability, ease of maintenence, and maneuverability are some of its desirable features from the Air Force's point-of-view. It can be pot into the air rapidly from small, fairly primitive airstrips to accurately bomb places and people designated "enemy targets" by forward air or ground observers. It is equipped with a 7.62 mm "minigun" (a high-speed electronic machinegun) in its nose for strafing and wing pylons for carrying a variety of bombs and rockets. In El Salvador, it typically carries six 500 lb. or four 750 lb. bombs which can be targetted very accurately. It is also capable of carrying napalm bombs. In 1985, the number of A-37's in the Salvadoran Air Force increased from 6 to 9, with another one reportedly on the way. WAR IN CENTRAL AMERICA FOCUS: EL SALVADOR The Weapons of the Air War The AC-47s started strafing just as we returned to our holes, knapsacks in hand. There were two of them, flying counterclockwise in slow circles, shooting streams of bullets off the left side, scary machines because of the noise they make and because they fly so low, like heavy black beetles."-Christina Courtwright When the AC-47 carne into use in Vietnam in the mid-sixties it was an entirely new concept in air weaponry. CAI cargo planes--slow, lumbering propeller planes which had been the mainstay of air transport in World War were fitted with 7.62 mm General Electric "miniguns" which were placed to fire to the side of the plane. Though the C-47 was and is obsolete as a military cargo plane, its large fuel and cargo capacity and its slow speed made it particularly adaptable to conversión to an airborne gun platform, particularly in areas where opposition by anti-aircraft weaponry is unlikely. It is able to stay in the air a long time and can carry large quantities of ammunition. The point of using side-firing guns is that, unlike conventional forward-firing machine guns which require that the aircraft do a "strafing run" during which firing is possible for only a short period before the pilot must pull up and circle around again, the side-firing AC47 can continuously circle a position and pour a hail of machine-gun fire into the center of its circle from all points of the compass. It is theoretically capable of staying in the air up to six hours. The Reagan Administration initially attempted to hide from all but a few high-ranking Republican members of Congress the fact that it was sending AC-47s to El Salvador. Later, it agreed to send only two supposèdly "scaled down" models for a "trial period". At this time, however, it is doubtful that Congress is really capable of or interested in monitoring the actual use of these weapons. A recent article in Soldier of Fortune, reports that there are now seven AC-47s in use by the Salvador Air Force. Only two arrived with gun mounts, but it is a relatively easy matter to obtain and mount guns. According to the SOF reporter they are being armed with AN-M3 50 caliber Browning machine guns instead of the General Electric miniguns used in Vietnam. This is not seen as a "scaling down" by the SOF reporter because, though they are somewhat slower firing, these machineguns have better range and penetration and are also more readily available and more easily serviced under Salvadoran conditions than the miniguns. The AC-47 is thought by many to be the most deadly aircraft now in use in El Salvador. UH-1 "Huey" Many have called this helicopter the "jeep" of the Vietnam War. It is probably one of the most produced aircraft in recent history, used for a variety of purposes by U.S. allied governments around the world. In addition to many different production models featuring different sized engines, rotor types, cargo capacities, Huey models are frequently field modified with a variety of different door guns, rocket launchers, navigational equipment, etc., so knowing precisely how Salvadoran Hueys are outfitted and used at any given time is not easy. As of December, 1985 there were 46 UH-lHs in use in El Salvador. This is a model with an extended cargo compartment and larger cargo door most often used to airlift troops to and from combat areas. They are equipped with two M60 machine guns firing 7.62 mm bullets from the doors on both sides. There were also, at the same date, 12 UH-lMs, which is a gunship model with 7.62 mm Gatling guns in its door mounts and launcher pods for 2.75 inch rockets on each side. Hughes 500MD This helicopter provides an example of the difficulting in determining just how U.S. aid is being used in El Salvador. Hughes 500 is the civilian designation of an aircraft used in Vietnam for observation and reconnaissance. In this military version it was called the OH-6 "Cayuse". Reports from El Salvador about the Hughes 500, however, indicate its use as an attack weapon. Recent reports in Soldier of Fortune cali this aircraft the Hughes 500MD. The Hughes 500MD "Defender" is a much more heavily armed aircraft, lts use in El Salvador is purported to be to protect convoys of transport helicopters, but reports indicate that, equipped with a rapid-firing machine gun and able to hover in position, it is frequently used as a deadly attack weapon. Initially, three unarmed civilian models were obtained from the Hughes company in 1984 and retrofitted with fixed, forward-firing 7.62 mm miniguns, capable of firing 3000 to 6000 rounds per minute. Four more were received in 1985 already armed. Drawing of Salvadoran prison by Juan Carlos Celaya. Juan Carlos and his family live in sanctuary at Quaker House. He is 15 years old.

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