- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

Mexican drug cartels are the biggest organized crime threat to the United States, a top Homeland Security Department official told a House panel Thursday.

The department is concerned enough about the escalating violence on the southwest border that its plans to respond to the situation include - as a last resort - deploying military personnel and equipment to the region if Homeland Security Department agencies should be overwhelmed, said Roger Rufe, the department’s head of operations.

However, Mr. Rufe, echoing comments a day earlier from President Obama, said now is not the time to militarize the border with Mexico despite drug violence just inside Mexico that threatens to migrate across the border.

“We would take all resources short of [Department of Defense] and National Guard troops before we reach that tipping point,” Mr. Rufe told lawmakers. “We very much do not want to militarize our border.”

Mr. Rufe said military forces would be called in only when homeland security and other government agencies could not handle the problem. He did not specify what circumstances would trigger a call for troops.

The Mexican government has deployed 700 extra federal police to Ciudad Juarez, a city across from El Paso, Texas, in which local police had been swamped by drug violence. This month, 3,200 federal troops were sent to the city.

Mexican officials say the violence killed 6,290 people last year and more than 1,000 in the first eight weeks of this year. Warring drug cartels are blamed for more than 560 kidnappings in Phoenix in 2007 and the first half of 2008, as well as killings in Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala.

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