U.S. gets more deeply involved in Mexican drug war

Published 7 April 2011

As the war against Mexico’s deadly drug cartels rages on, American law enforcement agents are getting more deeply involved than ever before; the United States has primarily provided intelligence and training, while Mexican forces perform kinetic operations; despite these closely coordinated efforts to battle the drug cartels, U.S involvement has created friction on both sides of the border; Mexican officials downplay the presence of U.S. agents and their scope of responsibility fearing public backlash; critics in the United States fear that the violence is spilling over; the stepped up policing efforts have led to mixed results

As the war against Mexico’s deadly drug cartels rages on, American law enforcement agents are getting more deeply involved than ever before

Since Mexico’s president Felipe Calderon launched his campaign against drug cartels four years ago, more than 35,000 people have been killed including a U.S. Border Patrol agent that was gunned down last month.

The United States has primarily provided intelligence and training, while Mexican forces perform kinetic operations.

In particular, U.S agents are using sophisticated technologies like drones and tracking beacons to help Mexican authorities pursue suspected criminals and provide surveillance.

Brad Barker, the president of HALO Corp, a private security firm operating in Mexico, says there has been a noticeable increase in the presence of U.S. law enforcement agents.

“Yes, we’re tracking vehicles. Yes, we’re tracking people,” Barker says. “There’s been a huge spike in agents down there.”

An unnamed U.S. Embassy source was careful to note that U.S. agents do not get actively involved in raids or other kinetic operations. All agents receive diplomatic status and are banned from carrying weapons.

They do not kick doors down or accompany guys who kick doors down and make arrests,” the source said.

Instead, they focus their efforts on things like gathering intelligence, tracing cellphones, studying behavioral patterns, and following smuggling routes.

The U.S. and Mexican governments have not been clear on the exact numbers of U.S agents involved, but the Associated Press used publicly available information to find a heavy presence of agents operating south of the border.

According to the Associated Press, in Mexico there are more than sixty Drug Enforcement Administration agents, forty Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, twenty Marshals Service deputies, eighteen Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents, as well as dozens of others working for the FBI, Citizen and Immigration Service, Customs and Border Protection, Secret Service, Coast Guard and Transportation Safety Agency.

In addition, since 2008, the U.S. has spent $364 million out of the $1.5 billion agreed upon under the Merida effort to assist the Mexican government. The United States has also provided Mexico with eight Bell Helicopters, three Blackhawk helicopters, seventy-eight drug sniffing dogs, radars, inspection technologies, and a deluge of other law enforcement equipment.

Mexico is expected to spend $10.7 billion this year on public security.

Despite these closely coordinated efforts to battle the drug cartels, U.S. involvement has created friction on both sides of the border.

Mexican officials downplay the presence of U.S. agents and their scope of responsibility fearing public backlash. Mexican lawmakers were angered by the discovery that U.S. agents had been flying Predator drones over Mexico for the past two years, stating that they had not been informed of this development by Mexico’s national Security Council, which had approved the operation.

Lawmakers were also upset about undercover sting operations which allowed hundreds of guns to be smuggled into Mexico in order to catch cartel bosses. Mexico’s attorney general is currently investigating these operations.

Jorge Alberto Lara Rivera, Mexico’s deputy attorney general for International Affairs, said that if the attorney general’s investigation finds that U.S. agents had worked in Mexico for the operation it “would force us to restate many issues in the relationship.”

The stepped up policing efforts have led to mixed results.

Last year, a record fourteen of Mexico’s most wanted cartel leaders were caught or killed, stepped up monitoring of smuggling routes led to a more than 50 percent decline in cocaine interdictions, and Mexico extradited ninety-four suspected criminals to the United States compared to just twelve a decade ago.

Despite these successes, last year saw the highest number of killings as well as dramatic increases in the production and smuggling of heroin and marijuana into the United States.

The United States has also struggled to stem the flow of weapons and ammunition to drug cartels.

The weapon used to kill Brian Terry last December, a U.S Border Patrol agent deployed in Arizona fifteen miles from the border, was originally purchased in Texas.

Terry’s death sparked several Congressional inquiries and have led critics to believe that the border is more dangerous than ever.

Last year three people connected to the U.S Consulate General in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico were killed.

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