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El Salvador aims to double size of military within five years

El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele has announced plans to double the size of the Salvadoran military by 2026, from 20,000 up to 40,000 troops, in a bid to improve internal security against criminal gangs such as the Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13.

“Starting today, we will double the size of the armed forces; every 15 days a new batch of soldiers will join,” Bukele wrote in a 19 July tweet. However, he did not specify how many troops per batch or to which units they will be assigned.

Elected in 2019, Bukele's presidential term will conclude in 2024, but according to his plans, the 40,000-mark will be achieved by 2026. The country's constitution does not permit consecutive presidential terms, although the Supreme Court passed a ruling in early September allowing Bukele to run again in three years.

Analysts interviewed by Janes expressed concern about the usefulness of this plan. Tiziano Breda, a Central America analyst at the International Crisis Group, explained that Bukele's government continues to “erroneously believe” that the maras (gangs) can be defeated by military means.

“Even with twice the soldiers, the government will not be able to have control of gang-controlled areas,” he said, also noting that this plan does not “deal with the roots of the phenomenon” that provided a space for these groups to flourish across the region.

Mariano Bartolome, an Argentine university professor focusing on defence and security affairs, shared a similar opinion with Janes and said that while the additional troops will help combat crime, this initiative “does not address the structural factors that promoted the rise of the gangs” in the first place. Nevertheless, Bartolome argued that by improving public security, the country's economy and investment climate will improve.

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