The government of El Salvador has deployed a new, heavily armed unit to hunt crime bosses in the country's rural areas. Gang violence has turned the Latin American state into one of the deadliest places in the world.
Authorities created the force, comprising 600 military commandoes and 400 elite police officers, to "detect" the top 100 members of Salvadorian crime clans, officials said on Wednesday.
The unit has been equipped with assault rifles, helicopters and armored trucks, marking the latest government push in the campaign to curb the crime syndicates in the country. But the Salvadorian gangs are also rumored to have heavy weapons.
"We are going to hit those who try to create disorder," Vice President Oscar Ortiz said on Wednesday.
Depending on the estimate, there are between 70,000 and 100,000 gang members active in a nation of some 6.4 million people. They have mostly been operating from urban centers. In recent months, however, the crime syndicates have begun retreating to the to the cities' outskirts and to rural areas, following a series ofgovernment crackdowns.
"We are going to go after them in the countryside and in the city," said Vice President Ortiz. "We cannot yield to those who scorn life."
Death toll mounts from gang wars
Specifically, the San Salvador government intends to use the special unit to go after gang members hiding in rural areas or in the mountains. At the same time, they would also be available for urban operations.
Last week, government officials floated the idea of arming and training civilians to fight the gangs.
The Central American country is believed to be the most dangerous nation not at war, with the murder rate reaching 104 instances per 100,000 inhabitants. Around 22 people are murdered every day.
In 2015, the murder rate shot up almost by 70 percent after a truce between two rival gangs unraveled.