Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said last week’s report of Mexican military units crossing into U.S. territory was “overblown.” Insofar as the 216 documented incursions since 1996 aren’t reconnaissance units preparing for a coming invasion, Mr. Chertoff is probably correct. But Monday’s standoff between U.S. and Texas law enforcers and men dressed as Mexican Army soldiers suggests the secretary’s unenthusiastic response is a bit underblown.

The confrontation occurred along the Rio Grande 50 miles from El Paso, Texas. As state deputies pursued three SUVs smuggling narcotics, they encountered on the U.S. side of the river several men in Mexican military uniforms operating a Humvee armed with .50-caliber machine guns. When one of the SUVs got stuck trying to cross the river, deputies said the “soldiers” helped offload what appeared to be bundles of marijuana and set the truck ablaze. No shots were fired. This follows an incident in November, when Border Patrol agents attempting to off-load a truck stuck in the river were challenged by armed men also dressed in Mexican military uniforms.

The Mexican Embassy denies that members of the Mexican military were involved in either case. It also disputes the notion that its military has ever crossed over the border, innocently or not. Nonsense, says T.J. Bonner, a Border Patrol veteran and head of the National Border Patrol Council. “Intrusions by the Mexican military to protect drug loads happen all the time and represent a significant threat to agents,” he told reporter Jerry Seper of The Washington Times last week. Indeed, as Mr. Seper reported, Border Patrol agents have been instructed to essentially hide when they encounter a Mexican unit in U.S. territory.

Considering the level of corruption within the Mexican government, it certainly isn’t hard to imagine a scenario in which drug lords bribe Mexican units to act as mercenaries. There’s also speculation that these brigands are former members of a Mexican anti-drug unit trained in commando tactics by the United States. Whoever they are, they’re heavily armed, apparently well-trained and pose a serious risk to U.S. agents.

Which is why the Bush administration needs to find out what’s going on and who’s behind it. As a matter of border security, the United States cannot allow foreign commandos to operate with impunity inside our country. That should be common sense. But apparently it’s not the prevailing wisdom. “It’s been so bred into everyone not to start an international incident with Mexico that it’s been going on for years,” Chief Deputy Mike Doyal of the Hudspeth County, Texas, Sheriff’s Department told the Associated Press.

Yet if these brigands are Mexican military, then the international incident has already happened. Under such circumstances, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice should call in Mexican Ambassador Carlos de Icaza and and formally express our government’s deepest concerns. At the very least, the Bush administration must assure the public that we will not be out-gunned on our own soil.

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