WASHINGTON -- American AC-130 airplanes equipped with sensitive electronic sensors are flying over El Salvador and adjacent countries in search of clandestine arms shipments headed for leftist guerillas fighting Salvadoran troops.
Officials said Monday the planes have been operating over El Salvador for several weeks.
The Defense Department also announced that 525 Salvadoran officer candidates will begin arriving at Fort Benning, Ga., for training this week.
The Pentagon officially acknowledged the planes were conducting reconnaisance missions over Central America, but would not pinpoint where they have flown.
The Hercules aircraft, used in Vietnam, do carry weapons, but administration officials said they are not armed for their current missions.
The officials said the planes, operating out of Howard Air Force Base in Panama, fly either in international air space or in the air space of countries that have permitted the flights. These presumably are El Salvador and Honduras.
The aircraft are equipped with infrared equipment and low light level television sensors that would enable them to detect the smuggling of weapons into El Salvador, said the officials, who requested anonymity.
'They are in international air space and we have not violated any countries' air space,' one administration official said.
The official said it would be premature to judge whether the planes have detected any illicit arms traffic.
The Reagan administration has charged that Cuba has been sending weapons through Nicaragua to the leftist guerillas in El Salvador.
At the same time, the Pentagon announced that about 525 Salvadoran officer candidates will begin arriving at Fort Benning, Ga., this week for training in 'leadership, physical conditioning, platoon tactics, patrolling, weaponry, first aid and human rights.'
The training will be conducted in three cE:les from May through September, with about 175 men in each cE:le, a Pentagon spokesman said.
Previously, between January and May of 1982, 477 officer candidates were trained at Fort Benning.
The Defense Department has asked Congress for additional money to train Salvadoran troops in El Salvador, but Congres rejected most of the aid request.