A Salvadoran soldier with his face covered

The Salvadoran army has dismissed an increasing number of troops for suspected gang affiliation, indicating growing attempts by gangs to infiltrate the armed forces, or alternatively, a greater effort on the part of the military to identify potential infiltrators.

A freedom of information request by El Diario de Hoy uncovered documents from the Salvadoran defense ministry showing that 223 alleged gang members were dismissed from the army between January and September of this year -- roughly 30 percent more than the 170 gang-related dismissals that occurred during the previous four years combined.

Of the total 393 troops expelled since 2010, two were deputy sergeants, two were corporals, and the rest were lower-ranking soldiers. It remains unclear whether these soldiers were simply expelled, or whether they were also investigated, arrested and charged for their alleged gang affiliations.

According to the report, gang infiltration has affected the majority of military divisions, including the navy, the air force, logistical support units and even medical staff. Only one unit, the First Infantry Brigade, did not register any dismissals due to suspected gang infiltration.

Particularly concerning is the revelation of alleged gang ties among 16 members of the Special Forces Command, which were deployed to several cities earlier this year to assist police in combating the country’s gangs.

InSight Crime Analysis

Increased attention to the problem of gang infiltration on the part of military officials could explain the rapid rise in the number of dismissals over the past two years. Gang infiltration of the security forces is hardly a new development in El Salvador, but given ongoing reports suggesting troops have engaged in arms trafficking and smuggling contraband into prisons on behalf of gang members, the recent increase in expulsions could signal stronger efforts to stamp out military corruption.

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On the other hand, the large increase in the number of dismissals observed could also indicate growing attempts by Salvadoran gangs to directly infiltrate the armed forces. Salvadoran military officials have previously warned that the country’s gangs are seeking to directly infiltrate the police and armed forces in order to obtain intelligence, training, arms, uniforms and other information or materiel that could prove useful in carrying out their criminal activities.