US Special Ops in 1980's El Salvador

Sometimes there is a comment added to the blog which I think is worth bringing to the attention of other readers. On my post about the 25th Anniversary of the El Mozote massacre, the following comment was left a few days ago:
Contrary to the information posted here regarding myself - I did not participate in the training of the Atlacatl Battalion, either at Fort Bragg, NC, or in Panama/El Salvador.

I was the Special Forces advisor who reported being shown a guerrilla's skull (at the unit's base in El Salvador) that had been turned into a desk lamp. My report was delivered to the US Embassy in El Salvador at the time through the proper chain of command.

The vast majority of SF advisors serving in El Salvador did likewise as this was part of the mission statement. For example, there was a senior Special Forces advisor at El Mozote the day/night of the massacre (and only one). He attempted multiple times to dissuade Colonel Domingo Monterosa to spare the victims. When Monterosa ignored him, the advisor departed by foot and made his way, alone, back to San Salvador. There he made a full report to embassy officials of what the unit and Monterosa were doing in El Mozote.

As for justice...

In an interview I conducted with former Commadante Gilberto Osorio in San Francisco in 1993, Osorio described the lengthy and well planned assassination of Colonel Monterosa by the PRTC, an assassination carried out in great part due to the war crimes actions of his unit at the time (the Atlacatl) in El Mozote. Portions of my interview with Osorio were published in "Behind the Lines, September/October 1993" as well as in "Fighting Knives Magazine" and my book "At the Hurricane's Eye, 1994".

From the FMLN's view revolutionary justice, in this case, was carried out.

The absurd and fanciful claims made that "green berets" murdered babies in El Mozote or anywhere else, at any other time in that war, are as absurd as they are the products of an ill mind.

At the conclusion of the war as brokered under a UN peace agreement, it was the guerrillas of the FMLN that requested US "Green Berets" remain with Salvadoran military units during the early stages of the accord. This because the guerrillas had learned of our commitment to human rights, and the sometimes dangerous reporting we made to the US embassy regarding thugs like Monterosa.

Greg Walker (Ret.)
United States Special Forces
Author, "At the Hurricane's Eye"
Director, Veterans of Special Operations - El Salvador

I recognize that anyone can post a comment on this blog, so I have no way to verify that Greg Walker actually wrote this comment. Assuming it is the same person, in 2001, Walker was interviewed on the website of Paladin Press, a publisher of military and action books, where he was quoted as saying:
“I was afforded the opportunity to study hand-to-hand and knife combatives under several blooded military instructors. In El Salvador, I had the opportunity to teach close combatives techniques to selected reconnaissance/sniper team members, techniques immediately proven effective based upon guerrilla body counts racked up by these units. I guess you could say my ‘black belt’ comes in the form of a green felt hat, which I’m very proud to have earned in the traditional manner.”

Walker was also quoted in a May, 1996 Washington Post article:
Officially, there were only 55 American advisors in El Salvador at any one time, and their rules of engagement prohibited them from participating in combat operations. But none doubted he was in a combat zone. They carried weapons, received combat pay, accompanied government troops in the field and were targeted by guerrillas who had decided U.S. troops were fair game.

"The U.S. government was going to allow a clever blurring of the history of the civil war to go unchallenged," said Greg Walker, a former Army Special Forces staff sergeant who has led a veterans' campaign to gain official recognition of the US military role in El Salvador.

"We wanted to correct the history," Walker explained. "We wanted to recognize the sacrifices of those who served but were made to feel they were fighting a dirty secret war that no one wants to talk about. And we wanted to honor our dead and bring closure to their families."

Particularly troubling for many who knew the truth were the incomplete or outright false official reports relatives received about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of those killed in action in El Salvador.

In 2007, it is not new information that the US trained Salvadoran forces in counter-insurgency tactics, and that US military advisers did not just sit in bases around San Salvador. What was new information to me in Mr. Walker's comment post, was the presence of senior US Special Forces adviser at El Mozote during some part of the massacre who left the scene and provided a full report to the US Embassy. (The Embassy and Reagan admministration would subsequently deny that a massacre had taken place).


Anonymous said…
One should be suspicious of Greg Walker and his "facts". I believe it's fairly well known that the ERP was the group that planned and carried out the killing of Col. Monterossa, not the PRTC. Perhaps Walker is confused about that operation and the one in the Zona Rosa which the PRTC did carry out
Anonymous said…
let's all hope and pray to God that that girly clown of rene figueroa does not even become the arena presidential candidate, i mean, not even for vicepresident. what a moron!
Anonymous said…
I came across a great article about Colonel Domingo Monterossa.
It details his military background, atrocities at El Mozote and subsequently, being taken-out through a cleaver, deceptive "trick", planned by the
guerrillas. Monterossa thought he had confiscated the main radio transmitter from Radio Venceremos, only to find out, it was loaded with dynamite and exploded in-flight in his helicopter as he was headed back to San Salvador for a press conference to show off his new "trophy."
What goes around comes around Monterossa......
Anonymous said…
I kjnow for a fact certain of these green berests threw babies in the air and caught them on their bayonets, some of the same were North's bubbies and involved with Cocaine trafficking with the contras and in and out of Ilopongo
arrogant rude ignorant assholes as are all in US miklitary taight to kill all unlike themselves and in foreign lands, just the facts
these same guys, one in particular still was involved in running heroin to ES from Thailand then on to USA and still involved with coke smuggling, mainly in EU with TNT,and through Haiti, etc etc etc.
mainly with total approval of those such as The Heritage Foundation and that other council that Cheney was on as he is with Halliburton, and other corporations involved in drug smuggling, arms sales and other lurid busineeses
and headed by an Adviser that was in ES in the 80's teaching mortars in 85 to Battalion Cuscatlan
look it up, all there on the web
Anonymous said…
That was the most nonsensical, horribly spelled post I've ever read. It didn't really explain to me how you knew these things "for a fact."

PS - The internet is not the best source for accurate information.
Anonymous said…
I would agree. While the U.S. funded, trained, and help guide the counter-insurgency in El Salvador it has never been said that U.S. Green Berets threw babies in the air to impail them on bayonets. Sounds like an urban legend.

There is a monument inside the U.S. Embassy that lists the U.S. military personnel killed in El Salvador during the conflict. It lists many more names than we have hard of: the U.S. Navy Seal killed at the UCA waiting for his girlfriend, the Marines in the Zona Rosa, the Specials Forces Sergeant killed in the storming of El Paraiso, the two U.S. serviceman wounded when their helicopter was shot down who were then executed by the ERP in 1990. So, what were the other people on the monument, which lists over 40 names doing in El Salvador and how did the die, as many it seems were in combat? That said, I doubt they impaled babies on bayonets. Truth be known, what they were doing was as vicious and barbaric. This need to come out into the public light so these people may be judged for their actions.

Cheney and his ilk are involved in many nefarious things, but somehow drug smuggling into El Salvador does not seem one of them. I think you need to get your facts straight, as otherwise you negate your arguments.
Anonymous said…
On the one hand, it is hard to believe that Monterossa would have allowed a US advisor to be present knowing his troops were about to committ a massacre.

On the other hand, after 2 US Embassy officials visited a nearby area (but did not actually inspect el Mozote due to safety issues) and reported by message back to the State Department that they could not confirm a massacre, then ambassador Dean Hinton sent another short message back to HQ advising that he believed that something bad happened, he could just not confirm the details.

It would be huge if a US Military advisor was on the spot. I just find this hard to believe, and this it could have been kept a secret all these years. Mark.
Anonymous said…
One should be suspicious of those who claim facts but do not provide sources...or their names.

Gilberto Osorio, whose nom de guerre was "Zalaya", described to me during an interview the planning, conduct, and execution of the assassination of Monterosa.

Osorio was one of the best explosive experts the FMLN had. He was Cuban trained / trained by North Vietnamese advisors operating out of Nicaragua.

He built the bomb placed in the radio equipment Monterosa was sucked into landing to retrieve thinking it was the FMLN's in-country broadcasting station - a thorn in Monterosa's side for months. When the radio equipment was secured in the colonel's helo, the bomb was detonated by remote control...Osorio fought with the PRTC but his explosives skills were relied upon in the attack on CEMFA in La Union, and in the training of JP-28, the sapper unit that successfully attacked El Pariso and blew Sergeant Greg Fronius' wounded body up so that only 17 pounds of remains were recovered.

As I've written on the attack on CEMFA...the Zona Rosa murders...and the shootdown-capture-execution of two US aviators...among other ES related events...I can assure this audience it is not me who is confused.

The Special Forces advisor who worked with Monterosa, and was friends with the colonel, was with him and his battalion at El Mozote. As I stated, he did all possible to change Monterosa's mind about destroying the village and its peoples, and when the killing began he left and made his way back to the capital to submit a report to the US Embassy.

I know this now retired advisor, spent a short amount of time with him in El Salvador, and there is no doubt he did what I reported he did.

The idiot without a name who insists he "knows" Special Forces troopers bayoneted babies in El Salvador is pathetic. Untrue, never happened, urban myth, the stuff the sadly lacking cling to in order to reinforce their blurred vision of the world around them.

De Oppresso Liber -

Greg Walker, Retired
United States Army Special Forces
Trauma63 said…
I am one of several Navy corpsman who were dispatched/trained to be "Medic Advisers". Unfortunately I have a little PTSD which clouds my memory. I was "down south" in the spring/summer of 1982. I had additional training prior to deployment; S.E.A.R school, jungle warfare Panama, and ATLS Fort Sam.
When i came back, (early due to T&T wound to my arm) I was processed at NH Balboa, and sent on leave, where I had a melt down while staying with my parents. At that time Balboa Pysch dept whom my mother called stated that I had never been seen there, or treated.
I am curious if this is commomn for veterans of El Salvador? I went on to finish my tour and subsequently went marine corps reserve, and then army reserve, and through out my service time the mention of El Salvador was non-existent, or taboo. I worked with Green Berets, PJs, and Force Recon, but for the life of me can't remember anyone. I remember the training , dog/goat labs, Obstacal course of Jungle warfare, SEAR school. I have occasional flashbacks that probably cost me one marriage, and strained my current one. Does the VA recognize veterans with service in El Salvador? I just feeel like a chunk of my life is missing, and i want to find it and come to terms with it. Sorry for tossing this crap on your page.
Tim said…

Check with Greg Walker who has posted above. He has done work with getting recognition for US military forces who were on the ground in El Salvador.

Greg said…
U.S. veterans of the war in El Salvador are entitled to VA health benefits.

This due to the affirmation of the U.S. Government/Pentagon that a U.S. military campaign was indeed fought in ES.

The Veterans of Special Operations - El Salvador (VSO-ES) fought a ten year grassroots campaign to see this campaign rightufully recognized for exactly these due benefits and help.

Greg Walker (Ret)
USA Special Forces
Anonymous said…
We are just men whom were told to do our jobs. We were not all sf. the rules of engagement always change in any theatre when the OPFOR modifies the rules.
Anonymous said…
Honestly Tim,
I appreciate your interest in our country...and as a salvadorian who lives in the U.S. and lived through the war in El Salvador, I must say, I tend to see the huge bias of the media and journalists in portraying some people as "totally good" and other people as "totally evil"...and if you live in this planet, you should know that all things are neither black or white. The reality is that the period of war institutionalized the use of violence in the country...this is a legacy which is present up to now...and people suffer and continue suffering from it...but the blame game never helps anybody... in trying to understand an El Salvadorian revolution which is as much cultural as it is political one should refrain from making harsh judgements on people...this is a naive approach which as I have observed is very prevalent in the West.
Anonymous said…
If I may interject something on the US in El Salvador, Special Forces units were not alone in the country at that time. Like Vietnam, the CIA had a hand in what went on there. That "funny little hat" still means something that can't be given to just anyone.
Anonymous said…
US forces did not commit atrocities in El Salvador. The Atlacatl battalion did however. They did impale a baby on a bayonet and hung young children so they would slowly strangle. There were SF with them at El Mozote before the killing started. There were also members of the Army's FOG unit keeping tabs on the situation (this evolved into the ISA later). You are probably not going to see any detailed accounts of this war on something like the History Channel because no one is going to be too enthusiastic about associating themselves with what happened there. You were either a soldier who doesn't want to be contaminated with that mess or you're FOG/ISA/CIA and know a bit more than ever needs to get out in public.

Veritas Omnia Vincula Vincit
Anonymous said…
There was only one U.S. Special Forces advisor with the Atlacatl at El Mozote who - after strongly advising Monterosa not to proceed with the killings there.

That advisor left the town, on his own, and made his way back to San Salvador where he reported the atrocity to the MilGrp CDR and U.S. Ambassador. This has been noted before on similar forums.

Yes, the Atlacatl committed war crimes - as did the FMLN and its five distinct armies. One of the conditions of the UN peace accord was a general amnesty for the FMLN with exceptions with the Salvadoran military. This is public record.

FOG and well as DELTA were operational in El Salvador as both intelligence gatherers and operators. This is public record.

U.S. military personnel from all Services who served in El Salvador from 1981 - 1991 are authorized full combat awards and decorations - this as of 1998. None have reason to be ashamed of their service or duty to country. These awards and decorations include two posthumous POW medals -awarded to an aviator and his door gunner who were shot down, captured, then executed in Morazon.

Finally, the PRTC was responsible for the hit on Monterossa - its primary planner and maker of the bomb hidden in radio equipment made available for Monterossa to capture was Gilberto Osorio, known as "Geraldo Zeleya", Chief of Operations for the PRTC.

The PRTC was well aware of and abiding of the Zona Rosa assassinations but these were carried out by an urban commando seeking to establish itself as a sixth "army" within the overall FMLN. This is public record and was covered in the special operations journal "Behind the Lines" some years ago.
Anonymous said…
The SF operators that I knew were of the utmost professionals. I learned what it means to be a true soldier/warrior. These men were the finest, most honorable men I have ever had the benefit to know. Shit happened, "days at the dump", "roadside kills" they occurred. Everyone was a victim or target. it was more of the same " US Intervention" (ie. Vietnam, Etc.)
I was involved as a medical/trauma adviser, Far from operator material.
These men, that people chastise, and malign were the only personnel that I trusted with my life and safety. I learned discipline, and brotherhood from these men. everyone that i worked with NEVER participated in such WAR CRIMES that are stated in this blog. Granted there were "the Spooks" The guys who showed up "out the blue" at times. Guerrilla Warfare is not fair, never has been. But I never saw an American adviser attached with Special teams condone torture and murder of civilians. I was witness to Firefights, and again body dumps, but never .....never did a SF operator, Green Beret, Force Recon, etc.. ever participated in the atrocities posted here. "Spooks" are a different breed. Kinda of today's "Don't Ask Don't tell" except we're talking war crimes. Our society, as exhibited post 9/11, the People wanted vengeance, but when faced with the reality of , of tactics, and practices used to obtain information. was considered UNAMERICAN. I've posted once to this site. I was accelerated in my training' (ATLS, SERE, Jungle Warfare), to participate in this operation.
Unknown said…
ES. I remember it well. I was an advisor in 1988 and 1989. I had a very difficult time with the MILGRP commander who made my job stressful. This commander didn't like the CIA and I was reporting to the CIA . I was a staff sergeant (not Special Forces), playing a captain (Salvadoran military didn't like or respect NCO's). On the US Army side I scanned enemy documents in the Estado Mayor, and shared information with the CIA and delivered documents to Panama every three weeks. I cultivated sources for debriefing and paid Salvadoran officers and enlisted for information, using CIA funds. One officer was, according to the CIA, a double agent working as a commander at a military base and giving information to the FMLN. I had to meet with said commander knowing that he was turned. I had some harrowing experiences (attacked, car bombs, and an ambush or two. Overall, I enjoyed the duty. The bickering between the US military and the CIA seems counter-productive. When I left in late 1989, I returned to Panama for "Just Cause". Airborne!
Unknown said…
Trauma63, yes this is common. If you try to VA any trauma injuries received there the VA will flat tell you, you were never there, yet I have a Zimmer experimental knee cap due to injuries received there. My original DD-214 has several blacked out lines, a recent new copy, has no black lines, nor does it show having left the US to go there. Jungle Warfare shows, but not being accelerated, nor sent out of country. And no, no one in the teams, advising, were okay with violating any human rights, torture, or the murder of civilians by any means. We were under specific orders to report any such atrocities being performed and to dissuade, if possible, those we were there to advise not to allow such to be committed.
Trauma63 said…
Yeah I ran into that with the VA, with Major PTSD events related to my service, but no indication that I was TDY, for 6 months, didn't even complete complete an year. I'm proud of my service, and what I learned, I have physical scars, as well as the previously mentioned above. I don't dwell on it now, but it's there everyday, It's personal and private. And remember, Nobody wanted to upset Reagan's Ideal.