U.S. officials Wednesday reaffirmed their commitment to keep military advisers in El Salvador despite a rebel threat that two Americans killed in recent weeks “won’t be the last.”
Salvadoran officials, meanwhile, conceded that 69 soldiers died in Tuesday’s attack on the key 4th Infantry Brigade headquarters at El Paraiso in the northern province of Chalatenango and that 60 others were wounded. The army earlier had said 43 soldiers died and 35 were wounded.
Also killed was Staff Sgt. Gregory A. Fronius, 27, one of about 55 U.S trainers and advisers based in military installations throughout the country. Fronius was hit by mortar fire during the attack on the garrison by guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front.
U.S. Resolve Unbowed
A week ago, an American CIA agent was killed along with four Salvadorans in a helicopter crash in eastern San Salvador. The guerrillas claim to have shot down the helicopter, but U.S. and Salvadoran officials say the aircraft suffered mechanical failure. U.S. officials have not named the American, but a U.S. newspaper identified him as Richard D. Kroboch, 31.
As the army combed the hills of northern El Salvador on Wednesday in search of the guerrillas who attacked the El Paraiso garrison, U.S. Embassy spokesman Pendleton Agnew said the two Americans’ deaths should not weaken U.S. resolve in this country.
“I don’t think there is going to be a change in U.S. policy,” Agnew said. “I have been here through (Navy Lt. Cmdr. Albert) Schaufelberger, the Marines killed at the Zona Rosa and an earthquake that damaged the embassy and created security problems, and these events haven’t deterred U.S. policy.”
Schaufelberger, who was deputy commander of the American military mission in El Salvador, was shot to death May 26, 1983, on the campus of the University of Central America, as he waited for his girlfriend.
Four U.S. Marine guards were among 13 people killed in a guerrilla attack on an outdoor cafe in the Zona Rosa neighborhood of the capital on June 19, 1985.
Fronius was the first of the advisers killed in combat, although the guerrillas have twice before launched large-scale attacks on military bases where Americans were present.
In their clandestine radio broadcast Wednesday, the rebels vowed that more Americans will die if they remain in the country.
“Two U.S. advisers die in El Salvador because of Reagan’s interventionist policy in our country, and they will not be the last to die if the stubborn imperialism persists,” the guerrillas said.
The rebel broadcast said the guerrillas launched several smaller military operations throughout the country simultaneously with the assault on the El Paraiso garrison.
American military advisers first arrived in El Salvador to train the armed forces on March 3, 1981. The U.S. government has imposed a limit of 55 advisers based in El Salvador, but there may be more than 100 military personnel in the country at any one time because many of those do not fall into the category of advisers.
Medical training personnel, Marine guards, Defense Department officials, helicopter crews and U.S. Military Group support personnel are not included in the count of 55 trainers and advisers. The colonel who heads the U.S. Military Group also is not included in the total, and any U.S. military official or trainer who is in El Salvador for less than two weeks is exempt from the limit, Agnew said.
The advisers are prohibited from engaging in combat. Salvadoran officials said Fronius is believed to have been killed by a mortar shell as he ran from one room in the garrison to another during the attack. His remains were shipped out of the country Tuesday.
“The decision was made years ago that El Paraiso was safe,” embassy spokesman Agnew said. "(Americans) have been there for years.”
Yet El Paraiso was destroyed in a previous guerrilla attack in December, 1983. The garrison was rebuilt and fortified, although it sits in an exposed basin surrounded by hills.
Soldiers supposedly control the hills, and the area around the base is mined, but the guerrillas managed to enter the installation nonetheless. The Salvadoran defense minister, Gen. Carlos Vides Casanova, told 4th Brigade soldiers after the attack that they must increase their vigilance.
“As we have said, we cannot avoid these (attacks),” Vides Casanova said. “This is not the first, and we don’t expect it to be the last.”
Last June, the guerrillas attacked the 3rd Infantry Brigade headquarters in the eastern province of San Miguel, and in October, 1985, they attacked the military training school in the province of La Union. In both attacks, they killed scores of Salvadorans and barely missed U.S. advisers at the bases.
The army chief of staff, Gen. Adolfo Blandon, said Wednesday that 64 soldiers died in the Chalatenango attack, but a justice of peace who certified the deaths said 69 were killed.
An army spokesman, Col. Mauricio Hernandez, did not dispute the death toll of 69.