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Central American Troops Make Important Contribution in Iraq

Nearly 1,000 Central American soldiers have made important contributions to reconstruction and security efforts in Iraq, while representing their respective nations with distinction and making favorable impressions on their coalition counterparts, according to U.S. officials.

Three hundred sixty-one Salvadoran soldiers, 367 Honduran soldiers, and 115 Nicaraguan soldiers joined 302 troops from the Dominican Republic and 1,300 from Spain to participate in the Spanish-led Plus Ultra Brigade stationed in south-central Iraq. The Brigade is part of a Polish-led multinational division.

Although the first contingents of Central American troops returned to their respective nations earlier in 2004 following six-month deployments, the soldiers from the Salvadoran Cuscatlan battalion, the Honduran Xatruch battalion, and the Nicaraguan humanitarian contingent acquitted themselves well during their deployment, U.S. officials say.

The Plus Ultra Brigade includes security, engineering, and medical personnel and carries out an array of activities. These activities include security efforts and outreach to local Iraqi communities.

The first contingent of Central American personnel conducted security patrols and played an important role in the removal and destruction of landmines in Iraq.

Central American engineers, most notably "sappers" with the Nicaraguan contingent, destroyed over 22,000 tons of explosives, including ammunition and weapons. They also were able to provide considerable expertise to coalition troops on Soviet-era weaponry and munitions.

The Central American troops also carried out humanitarian efforts such as food donations, the construction of walkways and footbridges, the construction of well and irrigation infrastructure for local agriculture, and the distribution of school and sports equipment, including the construction of school playground equipment.

Furthermore, Central American medical personnel treated over 10,000 Iraqi civilians, including Shiite locals and Kurdish refugees. They also provided medical and humanitarian care to a local orphanage and a Center for the Disabled in the city of Ad Diwaniyah in south-central Iraq. The humanitarian efforts of the first contingent of Central American troops were recognized by local authorities and Iraqi civilians with various awards, including one presented by the Iraqi Society for Charity.

The contributions of the Central American troops also have been hailed widely by U.S. officials.

In a visit to El Salvador, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roger Noriega said that the contribution of Salvadoran troops to coalition efforts in Iraq "are important and key."

"The mission in Iraq is very delicate, very complex," he said. "Despite this, El Salvador is contributing to the security of the world."

In a letter to the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador, an official with the Coalition Provisional Authority who has extensive dealings with the Cuscatlan Battalion commented: "The Salvadoran Battalion is a superb fighting unit which has carried out a difficult assignment with considerable Úlan."

"We have repeatedly turned to them for assistance on all sorts of issues and found them to be consummate professionals," the official added. "They are among our best coalition partners."

Following a ceremony welcoming home the first contingent of Salvadoran troops from Iraq, U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Douglas Barclay indicated he was equally impressed by the troops.

"I could not have been more impressed by the Salvadoran soldiers -- their pride in and dedication to their mission, their esprit de corps, and their eagerness to put their training to use," he said. "We are truly partners as well as friends."

U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua Barbara Moore was similarly appreciative of Nicaragua's contribution to coalition efforts in Iraq.

"The humanitarian activities of the Nicaraguan troops in Iraq will have a lasting impact, most especially on the Iraqi civilians who directly benefited from their attention," she said. "For Nicaragua, long a recipient of generous disaster and development assistance, it was an important opportunity to reciprocate to the international community by offering their substantial expertise in de-mining and unexploded ordnance."

Moore observed: "The Nicaraguan deployment demonstrated to the Iraqis and to the Nicaraguans themselves that a well-trained, professional military can make a tremendous humanitarian contribution."

U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Larry Palmer was equally effusive in his praise for the contribution of Honduran troops during a ceremony welcoming home the first Xatruch battalion.

"I am happy to see the return of the Honduran troops form Iraq, and that is why I am congratulating each one of them for their great work, their courage and their support, he said. "I thank all of them for their efforts and sacrifices."

At a January 31 farewell ceremony in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, honoring the second Xatruch Battalion as they departed for Iraq, one Honduran soldier outlined the challenge facing the second contingent of troops.

"Our mission is peace in Iraq, and our counterparts have represented Honduras well," Emerson Tejeda told La Tribuna newspaper. "We have to surpass what they have done."

The 380 Salvadoran soldiers of the second Cuscatlan battalion face a similar challenge during their current six-month stint.

Increased insurgent activity in south-central Iraq may complicate the current Central American contingents' efforts to surpass the accomplishments of their predecessors.

Salvadoran soldier Natividad Mendez Ramos became the first Latin American casualty in Iraq, as a result of an April 4 attack against a coalition base in Najaf that also left 12 other Salvadoran soldiers injured.

Just over a week later, on April 12, insurgents fired three mortar rounds on the Honduran military base in Najaf. No casualties or material damage were reported, authorities said.

Due to a lack of funds, Nicaragua was unable to send a second contingent to Iraq.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)

 

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