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Salvador military says US overestimated rebel count

The Reagan administration has greatly overestimated the number of left-wing guerrillas in El Salvador, military officials said Wednesday. According to Salvadorean intelligence officers and Western military observers , guerrilla forces probably number fewer than half the top US estimate of 12,000 . In January, Washington publicly boosted its estimates of insurgent forces from the longstanding figure of 6,000 to between 9,000 and 12,000 armed combatants.

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The observers said they were not sure whether the US figures were ever accurate, and put the total at just over 5,000.

Some Western diplomats believe the Reagan administration inflated the figures to make it appear the US-equipped Army faced a greater threat from the guerrillas so that a reluctant Congress would grant El Salvador more military aid.

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