The Americas

El Salvador deploys anti-gang force to rural areas

  • A special forces soldier of the the El Salvador army stands at attention during a presentation to the press, in San Salvador, El Salvador, Wednesday, April, 20, 2016. The government of El Salvador is deploying a force of 1,000 soldiers and police to fight gangs in rural areas. The force will operate with helicopters, night-vision devices and machine guns and it will go after an estimated 100 leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs. (AP Photo/Salvador Melendez)

    A special forces soldier of the the El Salvador army stands at attention during a presentation to the press, in San Salvador, El Salvador, Wednesday, April, 20, 2016. The government of El Salvador is deploying a force of 1,000 soldiers and police to fight gangs in rural areas. The force will operate with helicopters, night-vision devices and machine guns and it will go after an estimated 100 leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs. (AP Photo/Salvador Melendez)  (The Associated Press)

  • El Salvador army special forces try on their night vision goggles during a presentation to the press as part of a new stepped-up phase in the government's fight against gangs in San Salvador, El Salvador, Wednesday, April, 20, 2016. The government of El Salvador is deploying a force of 1,000 soldiers and police to fight gangs in rural areas. The force will operate with helicopters, night-vision devices and machine guns and it will go after an estimated 100 leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs. (AP Photo/Salvador Melendez)

    El Salvador army special forces try on their night vision goggles during a presentation to the press as part of a new stepped-up phase in the government's fight against gangs in San Salvador, El Salvador, Wednesday, April, 20, 2016. The government of El Salvador is deploying a force of 1,000 soldiers and police to fight gangs in rural areas. The force will operate with helicopters, night-vision devices and machine guns and it will go after an estimated 100 leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs. (AP Photo/Salvador Melendez)  (The Associated Press)

  • El Salvador army special forces march during a presentation to the press as part of a new stepped-up phase in the government's fight against gangs in San Salvador, El Salvador, Wednesday, April, 20, 2016. The government of El Salvador is deploying a force of 1,000 soldiers and police to fight gangs in rural areas. The force will operate with helicopters, night-vision devices and machine guns and it will go after an estimated 100 leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs. (AP Photo/Salvador Melendez)

    El Salvador army special forces march during a presentation to the press as part of a new stepped-up phase in the government's fight against gangs in San Salvador, El Salvador, Wednesday, April, 20, 2016. The government of El Salvador is deploying a force of 1,000 soldiers and police to fight gangs in rural areas. The force will operate with helicopters, night-vision devices and machine guns and it will go after an estimated 100 leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs. (AP Photo/Salvador Melendez)  (The Associated Press)

A force of 1,000 soldiers and police officers is being deployed to fight gangs in rural areas of El Salvador, the government said Wednesday.

El Salvador's street gangs are mainly an urban phenomenon, but in the face of government raids, gang members have been operating more in rural areas and on the outskirts of cities in recent months.

Police commissioner Marco Tulio Lima said the force will go after an estimated 100 leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs.

The force will operate with helicopters, night-vision devices and machine guns.

The gangs are also believed to have heavy armament.

El Salvador's murder rate reached 103 homicides for every 100,000 residents last year. The government blames the gangs, which have expanded their territory.