Guerrilla Special Forces of El Salvador: The FPL, Vietnam, and Cuba
In 1982 the Salvadoran army captured a large cache of documents from a safe house in San Salvador belonging to the high command of the Popular Liberation Forces ( FPL), one of the five guerrilla factions. Among the numerous documents were several with dates from early 1980 through mid- 1981. They were letters and notes from meetings in which the creation of special forces units were discussed. Due to the triumph of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the greatly increased interest of Cuba and the international socialist community in Central America, the guerrillas of El Salvador were anticipating a qualitative and quantitative leap in force levels and combat in their tiny Central American nation. Open maneuver warfare was expected by the beginning of 1981, and the documents anticipated the need for guerrilla special forces, and discussed the concept, composition, and missions of the anticipated special units. Forseeing the guerrillas' lack of heavy weapons, the documents explicitly outlined the role of the special forces as tactical balancers for the guerrillas. In the documents' own words, the guerrillas called them "tubeless artillery" and "planeless bombs." 1 The special forces would be the initial answer to the armed forces artillery, armor, and aviation. 2 Other documents captured in this haul outlined how the special forces would counter the army's advantage in heavy weapons. Essentially, the proposed units would combine the abilities of two military skills: infiltration and explosives. In other words, the proposal was to create sapper units that could infiltrate enemy positions and blow up their support weapons and hardened positions.
This was by no means a new concept. The Germans had developed storm trooper battalions in World War I. Their mission was to infiltrate enemy trench lines and knock out key positions with explosives, grenades, flame throwers, and small cannon to allow following infantry forces to assault