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Cradling an M-16 rifle, Army National Guard Lt. Anthony Santiago stares down cars at a police checkpoint in his latest mission: helping to stem a vicious crime wave in Puerto Rico’s central mountains.

The island’s once-tranquil heartland has become a new refuge for drug gangs flushed out of the big cities, local officials say, prompting Gov. Luis Fortuno to deploy

National Guard troops to help police restore the peace.

Despite some ambivalence toward American troops, crime-weary Puerto Ricans say they are desperate for reprieve following one of the U.S. Caribbean territory’s most violent years on record.

To Santiago, who previously served with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, manning a checkpoint here makes him feel like he is back in Iraq except for the lush green surroundings and the lack of respect shown by criminals compared to the suspected militants he detained during the war.

“In Iraq, your enemy is going to try to kill you, but when you catch them they’re cooperative,” he said. “Here in Puerto Rico, if you have to detain somebody for any reason, they are not very cooperative. They insult you and everything else.”

Fortuno initially dispatched soldiers to the capital, San Juan, and other high-crime metropolitan areas in February, then agreed to send them to the mountains a month later at the request of local mayors. As many as 1,000 will be activated across the island. The guardsmen — whose role is restricted to backing up police — will stay until year’s end as 1,000 new police recruits complete training at their academy.

Source: Yahoo! AP News

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