Small Wars Journal

Maras in Central America

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Maras in Central America


National Security Implications of Gang Activity South of the Border

by COL Terry Saltsman and LTC Ben Welch III, Small Wars Journal

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The strategic nature of conflict and violence, in addition to the definition of insurgent, is in a state of rapid change in both the defense and intelligence community. In the post September 11, 2001 world the United States is compelled to take a 360 degree view of the world in its efforts to "observe, orient, decide and act" against potential threats to vital national interests.

The challenge facing today's defense establishment is an asymmetrical enemy that most Western militaries are ill equipped to challenge and defeat in a manner that is acceptable to the civilian population. If Iraq has taught us anything it is that even the best publicly supported military plan can turn sour, and that support can wane, if the operation morphs into a perceived tar pit. It is imperative that the public's discernment of the events that will lead to ultimate victory be molded in an honest and realistic manner. This is increasingly essential in our pursuit of terrorists.

In the months following the unthinkable acts of 9/11, many terrorism experts specializing in violent conflict began to ponder the expanded dimensions of the new face of terror as it might apply toward the United States. Soon after, when President Bush introduced the American public to the "War Against Terrorism," many of these same individuals turned their attention on the obvious avenues of Middle Eastern and Islamic Fundamentalist centric terrorism.

In the past several years the United States has pursued the "War Against Terrorism" on a number of fronts. In one, fighting in a conventional manner, territory has been the central issue with military forces seeking and then taking control of entire countries (Afghanistan and Iraq). In another scenario, Special Operation cells have worked with the military forces of concerned regimes in order to restrict the use of territory by terrorists seeking to establish training camps in countries such as Algeria and Mali.

With so many issues confronting the National Security interests of the United States it is easy to overlook one particular unprotected, and often ignored, flank -- the maras (gangs) of Latin America.

Download interim version of article as PDF

Categories: El Centro

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