The Department of Homeland Security has contingency plans to rush additional personnel and other resources, including the U.S. military, to parts of the southern border if law enforcement agencies on the ground are overwhelmed by spillover effects from escalating criminal violence in Mexico, department officials say.
Several border states likewise are drawing up contingency plans, amid growing concern about possible cross-border effects of the violence in Mexico, which claimed more than 5,300 lives last year - double the number in 2007.
The escalation has included videos of torture and executions posted on the Web - a tactic former officials say was likely copied from Muslim terrorists - and hours-long firefights between authorities and criminals toting large-caliber automatic weapons. A State Department travel advisory for U.S. citizens last week compared these incidents to "small-unit combat."
The DHS plan, which "does not change or supersede any existing authorities ... addresses how a number of government agencies would deploy federal resources to help state and local partners on the ground if local resources were overwhelmed," DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said.
She said the agencies would include the U.S. military "as needed."
"We have been coordinating with the Department of Defense," she said.
The Department of Defense "is aware of the DHS plan," said spokesman Lt. Col. Almarah Belk. The department "has provided some information on potential DOD-unique resources/capabilities - based on historical precedent - that could be employed in support of the DHS plan, if asked."
Neither Col. Belk nor Ms. Kudwa would give specifics, but nonlethal military capabilities such as air transport are used in federal disaster response.
Ms. Kudwa said the DHS operations plan had been drawn up last summer to address "a broad spectrum of contingencies," including the possibility that the violence in Mexico might "spill over the border in such a way that it exceeds the capacity of federal, state and local law enforcement on the ground to respond."
News of the plan, first revealed last week by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, comes on the heels of the State Department warning for Americans planning to visit Mexico, and of a report from the U.S. National Drug Intelligence Center, which found that Mexican cartels "maintain drug-distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors in at least 230 U.S. cities."
Several border states also are addressing the issue, which was one of a number of concerns raised with Miss Napolitano by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, in a meeting Monday, according to state officials.
"This is on our radar," said Jay Alan, a spokesman for the California Emergency Management Agency. He said the question had come up "not necessarily in a formal way" during discussions among the 10 states from both sides of the border - four U.S., six Mexican - who were negotiating a memorandum of understanding on emergency management.
In Arizona, Lt. James Warriner, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, told UPI that the violence was "definitely creeping across the border into Arizona" in the form of military-style home invasions, kidnappings and human-trafficking operations.
"There have been home invasions ... using the tactics" familiar to law enforcement because of their employment by Mexican cartels. "They are very heavily armed" and sometimes wear paramilitary-style uniforms, Lt. Warriner said.
Analysts say the extreme nature of the violence in Mexico is in part a product of the destabilizing effects of President Felipe Calderon´s use of the army and federal authorities to crack down on the cartels - which has provoked shootouts with police and escalating violence between the cartels as markets are destabilized by the removal of key players.