Monday, January 21, 2008

Mexican military efforts to crush heavily armed drug-smuggling operations in five cities along the U.S.-Mexico border pose a “grave threat” to U.S. authorities and a half-million Americans in the area, according to former U.S. Border Patrol and Immigration and Naturalization Service officials.

“What we face is more of a challenge than law enforcement can be expected to cope with,” said Kent Lundgren, chairman of the 800-member National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers (NAFBPO). “The best solution is for the U.S. military to assume armed positions along the border … and use whatever force is necessary to control the border zone.”

On Jan. 12, Mexican Brig. Gen. Rigoberto Garcia Cortez said the Mexican military and other personnel had surrounded five border cities in the lower Rio Grande Valley — Matamoros, Reynosa, Rio Bravo, Miguel Aleman and Nuevo Laredo — in response to gunfights between Mexican police, military forces and heavily armed drug smugglers.

Gen. Garcia told reporters last week his soldiers were encircling the targeted cities and were “organized to fight all criminal activity.” He said it would take time, but the drug smugglers “will not be able to handle the government and the army. … We are fighting for the security of the nation and its people.”

A spokesman at the Mexican Embassy in Washington said drug trafficking is a “shared responsibility and a threat to both our countries and our people.”



“President Felipe Calderon has demonstrated his commitment to fight drug-trafficking and organized crime head-on and his willingness to work with the U.S. Irresponsible statements are not the way to deal with it,” the spokesman said.

“Unfortunately, border violence south of our nation’s border is not new,” Border Patrol spokesman Michael Friel said, adding that it not only has increased in Mexico but also has directly affected U.S. authorities.

The number of assaults against Border Patrol agents on the border rose from 384 in 2005 to 987 in 2007, he said.

“Violence is on the rise, and we are fully aware of that phenomenon,” Mr. Friel said. “But we feel strongly that as we add resources as we have been doing, we will gain effective control of the border. We are working with the Mexican government, along with our state, local and tribal local law-enforcement partners, to address, decrease and stop the violence.”

Violence has been the key to long-standing efforts by the Gulf Cartel to control drug smuggling on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mr. Lundgren said NAFBPO, whose membership includes eight former chiefs of the Border Patrol and 14 former INS district directors, thinks the next step for the Mexican military will be to begin closing the “noose on the gangs,” but the targeted cities “abut the Rio Grande River, the international boundary and Mexican forces must stop there.”

“The predictable consequence is that those bandits will retreat across the Rio Grande into the United States — they will not surrender to Mexican authorities,” he said. “We need not expect Mexican authorities to inhibit their departures.

“This is a grave threat to U.S. Border Patrol officers, other U.S. law enforcement, and to residents of adjacent cities and towns in the United States,” he said.

The Gulf Cartel, based in Matamoros just across the border from Brownsville, Texas, is the second largest in Mexico and transports tons of cocaine, marijuana and heroin into the United States each year. Using violence and intimidation, it works closely with corrupt law officials in Mexico.

“They are very well armed, and numerous. Their strength has enabled them to seriously challenge civil authority in Mexico for control, with grisly executions being the tool of persuasion when money won’t do,” Mr. Lundgren said. “When they come here they will be looking for new bases of operations, even if only until the situation returns to normal.”

He said the drug smugglers would bring “new, unimaginable levels of venality and violence” to the United States and that deploying U.S. military troops on the border is the “best solution.” He said to do less would be to “abandon the area and our officers to its fate.”

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