- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Mexican government has sent an additional 9,000 soldiers and police to the country’s northern states to confront drug smugglers threatening to rise up against the extradition of their gang bosses.

Mexican Defense Secretary Guillermo Galvan said the government buildup, part of “Operation Sierra Madre,” came in response to the Jan. 19 extradition to the United States of 15 suspected smugglers, including 10 reputed drug cartel bosses.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon had dispatched more than 16,000 Mexican army, navy and federal police into the states of Chihuahua, Durango and Sinaloa shortly after he took office Dec. 1.

They have since burned more than 2,500 acres of marijuana fields and 2,000 acres of opium fields and have confiscated nearly 3 tons of cocaine and 20 tons of harvested marijuana in the country’s so-called “golden triangle” of drug traffickers.

Mr. Galvan said soldiers and police are prepared to confront any uprising and suggested that he was planning more extraditions as part of a crackdown by the Calderon administration on drug kingpins in the three states.

In the past six months, Mexico has extradited more than 60 fugitives to the United States, including suspects wanted on murder, rape and drug trafficking charges. The extraditions prompted Antonio O. Garza Jr., the U.S. ambassador in Mexico, to say the two countries “are working together to guarantee that neither country will ever be a refuge for those who seek to escape justice.”

Mexico’s Supreme Court last year struck down a four-year-old ban on extraditions.

Among those returned to the United States to stand trial was purported Gulf cartel leader Osiel Cardenas-Guillen, who was thought to be running the drug organization from his prison cell in Mexico, and reputed drug kingpin Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix of the Tijuana-based Arellano Felix gang.

Also extradited to the United States were Ismael and Gilberto Higuera Guerrero, brothers and former chiefs of the Arellano-Felix cartel, and Hector Palma Salazar, former boss of the Sinaloa cartel of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman — Mexico’s most powerful drug leader who escaped in 2001 from a maximum-security prison and remains at large.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) boss Karen P. Tandy has described the extraditions as “unprecedented in the history of Mexico” and said they had directly affected four major drug cartels in that country — including the Gulf cartel headed by Mr. Cardenas-Guillen. She described that operation as “one of the most brutal and powerful drug cartels in the world.”

Mr. Cardenas-Guillen controlled what the DEA has said was one of the major transit corridors into south Texas, and his lieutenants purportedly smuggled hundreds of kilograms of cocaine into neighborhoods across the United States.

U.S. authorities have said Mr. Cardenas-Guillen was responsible for moving 4 to 6 tons of cocaine a month into the United States from 1999 to March 2003. He also has been named as one of Mexico’s drug kingpins most responsible for the rising violence along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas in recent years.

“Ironically, Cardenas-Guillen was a former Mexican federal police officer who betrayed the public trust and exploited that knowledge to protect his organization,” Mrs. Tandy said. “Violence, intimidation and murder are his stock in trade.”

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