U.S.: Mexico's drug war posing growing threat to U.S. national security

concerns that some of their Mexican counterparts may be on the payroll of the cartels, despite U.S. efforts to boost “internal integrity,” they say.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is “growing increasingly concerned about the security situation” and has asked his staff to work with NorthCom to explore increased engagement with the Mexican military, a U.S. military official said. “The question is what will the Mexican military accept from us.”

The Mexican government appears increasingly open to greater cooperation in part because the security situation “is getting worse,” the official added.

Entous and Hodge note that any further U.S. military assistance to Mexico faces hurdles on both sides of the border. Mexico has been reluctant to accept direct U.S. military help and, with the Pentagon focused on Afghanistan and its expanding campaign against al Qaeda and its affiliates, it is unclear what the appetite will be inside the Department of Defense for a greater U.S. role, even if Mexico agreed to one.

U.S. officials are ratcheting up the rhetoric, though, going so far as using the term insurgency to describe how Mexican cartels are challenging the government.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last Wednesday described the drug violence in Mexico as an “insurgency,” saying “It’s looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago, when the narcotraffickers controlled certain parts of the country.”

Mexicans leaders chafe at that characterization — terminology used to describe a politically motivated war against an incumbent government, such as the Taliban’s fight in Afghanistan.


The language used by Clinton was reminiscent of a controversial November 2008 U.S. military assessment that lumped Mexico together with Pakistan as running the risk of “rapid and sudden collapse” in a worst-case scenario (“U.S. worried that Mexico may be on verge of collapse,” 24 January 2009 HSNW).

Though Mexico is intertwined with the U.S. economically, many Mexicans would see greater American military involvement in the conflict as a breach of sovereignty.

Former officials say U.S. assistance to the effort has lagged in part because of the U.S. preoccupation with Islamist-led insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Mexico’s resistance to more U.S. military help — compared to other countries like Colombia where the U.S. has played a far more hands-on role — has been another inhibiting factor and a source of U.S. frustration.

One problem with increased intelligence collaboration: U.S. agencies have been wary of sharing some intelligence because of concerns that some of their Mexican counterparts may be on the payroll of the cartels. “This is, to put it mildly, an extremely complex situation. We are assisting the Mexicans and stand ready to do more,” a U.S. counternarcotics official said of intelligence sharing.

A former senior U.S. counternarcotics official said intelligence from the few Predator drones flying along the border is being shared with Mexican authorities. Far more surveillance is needed, officials say.

We need to give credit to what President [Felipe] Calderón’s doing taking on this issue,” the official said. “But someone’s going to have to come to the realization that there is a war going on down there and they’re going to need help in combating that war.”