- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2006

A Texas sheriff and his deputy told Congress yesterday they had “no doubt” that Mexican military crossed the U.S. border in Texas on Jan. 23, even as Mexican officials announced they have concluded it was known drug traffickers instead.

“There’s no doubt in my mind there was Mexican military involvement. I’ve seen it too many times over the years,” said Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West, in whose jurisdiction the incursion happened.

The House Homeland Security Committee’s investigations subcommittee is examining the incident and the broader problem of incursions and violence on the U.S.-Mexico border. Two sheriffs and U.S. Border Patrol officials said Mexican military incursions happen, though they viewed them with differing degrees of seriousness.

On Jan. 23, Sheriff West said, his deputies and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers chased several vehicles suspected of carrying drugs as they fled back toward the Mexico border, and encountered a military-style Humvee on the American side of the Rio Grande.

After the Humvee and the other vehicles crossed the border into Mexico, one of the vehicles, a Ford Expedition, got caught in the riverbank. Another Humvee and other civilian vehicles arrived, unloaded the Expedition’s cargo and then set the vehicle on fire.

The sheriff and his deputy yesterday played video from a patrol car that was part of the chase.

Mexican officials yesterday said the preliminary results of an investigation show that “no personnel of the Mexican army participated” in the incident.

In findings sent to Washington, the officials said the “uniforms, insignia, armament and vehicles that appear on the initial video do not correspond to those utilized by the armed forces of Mexico.”

They said those involved were linked to the Rodolfo Escajeda drug-trafficking organization and that the tape shows Escajeda himself.

One of Sheriff West’s deputies, Esequiel Legarreta, who was part of the chase, testified that the vehicle was a military-style Humvee, the men wore Mexican military-style uniforms with unidentifiable insignias and that they used military tactics.

Deputy Legarreta, who served six years in the Marine Corps Reserve, said he was familiar with military-style weapons and vehicles and with the Mexican military uniform. He said there is “no doubt in my mind” he saw Mexican military on the U.S. side of the border that day.

Border Patrol Chief David V. Aguilar and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Whitaker said the federal government will wait for an investigation by the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement before drawing conclusions.

Chief Aguilar said the number of incursions is decreasing. Asked what help Congress could provide, he said the executive branch is doing enough and he did “not want to leave the impression our borders are besieged.”

Lawmakers were skeptical.

“It just seems to me it’s gotten worse, not better, and the cartels are getting more dangerous,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, Texas Republican and chairman of the investigative subcommittee.

Mr. McCaul said he was dismayed that Border Patrol agents were not involved in the chase.

He and T.J. Bonner, a 27-year Border Patrol veteran and president of the 10,000-member National Border Patrol Council, said they have been told agents were instructed to back off from this chase.

Mr. McCaul said that placing sheriffs rather than Border Patrol agents on the front lines could affect funding decisions in Washington.

Mr. Bonner suggested stationing the U.S. military as a reserve force to be used if the Mexican military crosses the border.

“If there’s an incursion, let the chips fall where they may. Let them do what they were trained to do,” he said.

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