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NEWS | Aug. 5, 2014

U.S. Army South completes eighth bilateral staff talks with El Salvador

By Eric Lucero Army South Public Affairs

U.S. Army South, as the Army service component command for U.S. Southern Command and acting on behalf of the Chief of Staff of the Army, conducted staff talks with the Salvadoran army July 12-16 at the Army South headquarters on Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.

The purpose of the talks was to foster a bilateral partnership, discuss ways to counter transnational organized threats and plan mutual training engagements over the coming three years to promote increased interaction between the U.S. Army and Salvadoran army.

"Our staff talks are a fundamental part of our fraternal relationship," said Maj. Gen. Joseph P. DiSalvo, the U.S. Army South commanding general and the head of the U.S. delegation. "The discussions and agreements that we reach in these talks, will define our meetings and expert exchanges for the next three years. Our officers, non-commissioned officers, and Soldiers are proud to work beside the Army of El Salvador."

For the past year, staff officers from each army have met in steering sessions to plan all future engagements. During the senior engagement, the heads of each delegation meet to sign memorandums of understanding outlining those Agreed to Actions (subject matter expert and educational engagements).
In previous staff talks, the goal was to formalize the next year's engagements between the two armies. However, during this year's meeting, the two sides planned out three years' worth of activities that will take them into 2017.

"We've gone from planning out the next year's engagements, to planning three years in advance," said Maj. Sergio Trejo, the Army South Central American desk officer. "This demonstrates our commitment toward each other as partner nations."

During the three days of talks, the two delegations drafted a list of 31 ATAs that covered a wide range of professional exchanges designed to improve capabilities and the working relationship between the two armies.

The staff talks focused on a major theme - emerging threats. The two armies discussed and identified ways to counter access to weapons of mass destruction, illegal armed groups within state territories, drug and human trafficking, transnational organized delinquency, trafficking of ammunition and explosives and the illegal migratory process.

One way both armies hope to make progress against these threats is through the development of a Regional Training Center for Counter Transnational Crime. This institution, located in El Salvador, will serve as a base of instruction and training and be available to all Central American countries to improve their capabilities to counter these threats.

The goal is to have this center operational by 2016. Under the current guidelines, El Salvador will facilitate the infrastructure with Army South support, while the U.S. will support El Salvador in developing the program of instruction and by conducting instructor exchanges.

Other themes discussed included humanitarian assistance/disaster relief and mutual development of institutions.

Capitalizing on the lessons learned earlier this year during Fuerzas Aliadas-Humanitarias 2014, the Salvadoran and U.S. armies plan on conducting a training exchange on a collapsed structure response situation in order to assist the Salvadoran Humanitarian Rescue Unit in responding to urban incidents.

"The bilateral talks are important for both armies because they allow us to outline engagements that are attainable and within the resources of both armies," said Salvadoran Brig. Gen. Armando Mejia, the Salvadoran army commander and head of the Salvadoran delegation.

"Our main objective for this round of staff talks is to lay a solid foundation of activities that enhance our ability to partner with the Salvadoran army," DiSalvo said. "This will allow us to increase our ability to fight transnational organized crime and the threats to regional security."

This year's meeting marks the eighth time the two armies have come together to re-affirm their regional partnership, which has become beneficial not only to El Salvador and the United States, but to the rest of the region as well.

"Our relation is not a new relation. Every year we have these talks, we strengthen that relationship," Mejia said. "These talks help us become a more efficient and more defined army with the assistance of Army South. This allows us to also support U.N. peacekeeping missions and other multinational missions in our area."