The Atlacatl Battalion, a former Salvadoran Army unit, was a rapid-response, counter-insurgency battalion created in 1980 at the U.S. Army's School of the Americas, then located in Panama. It was implicated in some of the most infamous incidents of the Salvadoran Civil War. It was named for Atlacatl, a legendary figure from Salvadoran history.
The Atlacatl Battalion's first trained Salvadoran soldiers arrived back in El Salvador in 1981. The Battalion was trained at Ft. Bragg, NC by US Special Forces and the 2nd Battalion, 505th Infantry of the 82nd ABN. Atlacatl soldiers were equipped and directed by U.S. military advisers operating in El Salvador during the civil war of the 1980s. The New York Times described the Atlacatl Battalion as "the pride of the United States military team in San Salvador. Trained in antiguerrilla operations, the battalion was intended to turn a losing war around."
The Battalion was disbanded under the terms of the 1992 Salvadoran peace accords that ended the eleven-year conflict.
In the early 1990s, the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador (UNTC) investigated war crimes during the civil war. Their report concludes that the Battalion was responsible for the El Mozote massacre, the El Calabozo massacre, and the murder of six Jesuit priests. The Battalion was also implicated in the killing of "some 50 civilians on the banks of the Guaslinga river".
Human Rights Watch linked Atlacatl to additional massacres not cited in the UNTC report: dozens killed in Tenancingo and Copapayo in 1983, 68 in Los Llanitos, and three separate killings in 1989. In this 1990 report, Human Rights Watch concludes, this record ought not be surprising. "U.S. officials have never pretended that human rights concerns should take precedence over the need to win the war, when, as they often do, the two goals conflict."
- "A Year of Reckoning: El Salvador a Decade After the Assassination of Archbishop Romero" Human Rights Watch, 1990, pp. 224-225
- "HOW U.S. ADVISERS RUN THE WAR IN EL SALVADOR" Philadelphia Inquirer, May 29, 1983
- "How U.S. Actions Helped Hide Salvador Human Rights Abuses" New York Times, March 21, 1993
- Report of the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador
- "A Year of Reckoning: El Salvador a Decade After the Assassination of Archbishop Romero" Human Rights Watch, 1990, pp. 225-227