SAN FRANCISCO GOTERA, El Salvador -- The newly formed Ronald Reagan Battalion armed with U.S.-funded weapons swept the hills of southern Morazan province Sunday in an intensified drive against a leftist rebel offensive.
Seventy soldiers of the battalion, named in honor of President Reagan, were deployed Saturday afternoon in a 'sweep patrol' into the municipality of Yoloaiquin, 75 miles east of San Salvador.
Armed with U.S.-made M-16 automatic rifles, mortars, bazookas and rifle-mounted grenades, the battalion is fighting leftist rebels who military sources said have tried to take over towns in southern Morazan province in their 4-year struggle against the government.
No casualty reports were available on the weekend fighting.
The 350-man Ronald Reagan Battalion was formed and named by Lt. Col. Jorge Adalberto Cruz, commander of the military base in San Francisco Gotera, the Morazan provincial capital 74 miles east of San Salvador.
Cruz, widely considered to be one of the Salvadoran army's most independent officers, formed the battalion without the authority of the army chief of staff, official sources said.
The battalion, to be officially inaugurated next Monday on National Soldier's Day, was named to honor Reagan because of his support for the Salvadoran army.
Congress recently turned down Reagan's request for an additional $62 million in military aid for El Salvador, but he later sent $21 million in already approved Pentagon funds for the army.
'We don't want heroes. We want good soldiers,' said a battalion leader Saturday in a pep talk to his troops near the highway leading from San Francisco Gotera to Osicala.
The commander, who askednot to be named, said the counter-offensive 'is not an operation of aggression but of deterrence. If they (the rebels) can take Morazan, they will have a political triumph on an international level.'
The battalion will conduct its search operation for the next week, moving its camp in the dry hills every day, the commander said.