- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2006

Federal, state and local law-enforcement agents have teamed up along the Texas-Mexico border to target rising violence spreading into the United States from a deadly turf war between drug cartels in Nuevo Laredo.

Since January, the Border Enforcement and Security Task Force (BEST) has arrested 31 cartel members; seized dynamite, grenades and bombs in Laredo, Texas; and taken possession of weapons, drugs and $1 million in cash.

“The BEST task force concept incorporates personnel from existing intelligence groups — involved in both collection and analysis — to help identify and disseminate information relating to violent smuggling organizations,” said Dean Boyd, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Team members include agents from ICE; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service; the U.S. attorney’s office; and key state and local law-enforcement agencies.

Drug-related violence on the Texas-Mexico border has surged during the past year, the result of intense competition between the Gulf cartel, led by Osiel Cardenas-Guillen, and the Sinaloa cartel, also known as the “Federation,” run by Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman Loera and Arturo Beltran Leyva.

Both gangs seek to control long-established drug-smuggling corridors into Texas. Authorities estimate that more than $14 billion in illicit narcotics pass annually through the Laredo area.

The bombs and other paraphernalia are thought to belong to or be destined for the drug cartels in Nuevo Laredo, where a brutal war over control of drug and alien smuggling routes rages. More than 200 people, including the police chief, a city council member and 13 police officers, have been killed in Nuevo Laredo in the past year as part of the drug war.

Nuevo Laredo, across the Rio Grande from Laredo, is the most active port of entry on the Mexican border, with 6,000 trucks crossing daily into Texas carrying 40 percent of Mexico’s exports.

The war since has spread to many parts of the Southwest, led, in part, by a rogue band of Mexican military deserters known as the “Zetas.” Trained in the United States as an elite corps of anti-drug soldiers, the Zetas have since signed on as Gulf cartel mercenaries.

In July, the Justice Department warned law-enforcement authorities in Arizona and California to be on the lookout for Zeta members.

Members of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, a violent Salvadoran gang that has spread into the United States, serve in a similar capacity for the Federation, authorities said. The gang helped the Federation take control of drug-smuggling routes into San Diego and El Paso, Texas.

The Federation was founded in the early 1970s by smugglers based in Sinaloa state and is considered the most powerful drug threat along the border.

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