- The Washington Times - Friday, January 27, 2006

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — The chief of the U.S. Border Patrol said yesterday he cannot rule out the possibility that Mexican soldiers took part in an attempt by drug smugglers this week to bring marijuana across the Rio Grande into the United States.

The incident on Monday led to an armed confrontation between Texas law-enforcement officers and drug smugglers dressed in what appeared to be Mexican military uniforms. The smugglers escaped back across the border without a shot fired, abandoning more than a half-ton of pot as they fled.

U.S. Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar told reporters he was not sure whether the men were Mexican soldiers, but they were dressed in “military-style uniforms, driving military-style vehicles and carrying military-style weapons.”

Mexico has denied the men were Mexican soldiers. In Mexico, kidnappers and drug smugglers regularly wear police gear, which is sold at street stands. On Thursday, Mexico’s foreign relations secretary suggested the smugglers may have been U.S. soldiers or American criminals disguised as Mexican troops.

Mr. Aguilar said he has spoken with his Mexican counterparts and was assured that an intense investigation is under way in Mexico.

A California newspaper reported this month that Mexican military units had crossed into the United States 216 times since 1996. It cited a Department of Homeland Security document, but department Secretary Michael Chertoff has said many of those incidents were just mistakes.

Also yesterday, Mr. Aguilar said Border Patrol and other law-enforcement agencies are reporting that a new violent tactic is being used against them: “flaming rocks,” rocks wrapped in cloth, dipped in gasoline, set on fire and thrown across the border.

Most of the incidents have happened near San Diego, and one officer has been injured, he said.

Authorities fear a deadly confrontation as attacks against Border Patrol agents increase. Last fiscal year there were 778 reported incidents, compared with 396 in 2004.

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