Cartels Go On Offensive Against Mexican Army

Cartels Go On Offensive Against Mexican Army
May 12th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Cartels Go On Offensive Against Mexican Army

Cartels Go On Offensive Against Mexican Army
Dallas Morning News
May 12, 2007
Pg. 1

Military crackdown on drug traffickers met with assaults on soldiers
By Laurence Iliff, The Dallas Morning News
MEXICO CITY – After decimating police departments in drug cartel hot spots through cop killings and corruption, drug traffickers appear to have set their sights on the powerful Mexican army, with three attacks this week against soldiers who form the last line of defense against exploding drug violence, analysts said.
In the most recent attack, gunmen late Wednesday fired 70 bullets into the car of a navy base commander near the Zihuatanejo beach resort, leaving him unhurt but killing a marine bodyguard and injuring two others.
The traffickers' decision to take on a reasonably well-trained and well-equipped army of about 100,000 soldiers shows they are moving from defense to offense now that President Felipe Calderón has put the military at the forefront of the drug war, analysts said.
"I guess we can call it a real war now," said Javier Ibarrola, a writer on military affairs. "For me, there are two possible scenarios: The federal government's use of the army is working, and the [traffickers] feel cornered and forced to fight back, or it's not working, and the narcos have turned their attention to the most visible force fighting them."
This week, the National Defense Ministry announced the creation of a drug-fighting unit called the Corps of Federal Support Forces. Analysts said it appears the new unit will be an elite fighting force with special training in civilian law enforcement.
It will also become the narcos' newest target.
Message: Back off
The slew of recent attacks by drug squads against soldiers "is sending a message: Get in our way and you're going to die," said Roderic Ai Camp, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., and an expert on the Mexican military.
Mr. Calderón has said that Mexico will win the drug fight because it must, and his crackdown on traffickers has helped him earn a hefty 68 percent approval rating, according to an opinion poll last month in the Mexico City newspaper El Universal.
But there are risks for Mr. Calderón, analysts say. With its aggressive response, the military is facing accusations of human rights violations. And some fear that that the army could eventually lose the fight or become corrupted by drug lords.
That's exactly what happened over time to some Mexican police forces, which have been outgunned by the narcos and increasingly found on their payroll, authorities say.
Should that same scenario play out over time with the army, "then you have Colombia," Mr. Camp said, referring to the patchwork of territorial control in Colombia by the government, paramilitary groups and cocaine cartels.
"If the government, using the military, attempts to exert its sovereignty in cities where Mexican drug traffickers have control and fails, then you are going to have parts of Mexico that are governed by legitimate elements and parts of Mexico that are ruled by others – the drug traffickers," he said.
Mexico's left-leaning weekly magazine Proceso put in bold headlines on its cover this week: "Narco. Calderón's Iraq." Below was a picture of army helicopters sweeping into a town where five soldiers were killed in an ambush last week.
The National Human Rights Commission sent six representatives to that town, Carácuaro, Michoacán, and others nearby to investigate complaints of arbitrary detention, torture, illegal searches and assault by soldiers and federal police, the commission said in a prepared statement.
The Defense Ministry did not have an immediate comment on the charges of rights violations.
Web of rivalries
Michoacán is Mr. Calderón's home state and the first place he sent the army after taking office Dec. 1. The drug fight there is complicated because of the number of homegrown trafficking groups and the presence of Mexico's two biggest drug organizations – the Gulf cartel, based on the Texas-Mexico border, and the Sinaloa cartel, based on the Pacific Coast.
The cartels fight among themselves; with federal, state and local police they suspect of being on their enemies' payroll; and increasingly with the Mexican army.
Figures from the National Defense Ministry show that the number of soldiers killed in the drug fight has been relatively steady at about 21 per year during this decade. But so far this year, 13 have been killed, including six this month.
The string of attacks also suggests a tit-for-tat typical of the turf wars between drug trafficking groups, with an escalation in the level of violence, the numbers killed and the deadliness of the weapons used, analysts said.
"I doubt that the narcos are as well-organized as the army, but in terms of firepower I think they are about equal," said Mr. Ibarrola.
The traffickers are also well-financed and highly motivated.
"I'm not sure how far they are willing to go" in terms of violence, he said, "but they are not willing to give up their business, period."
String of attacks
In the Carácuaro incident on May 1, the Defense Ministry said soldiers investigating a citizen tip were ambushed with gunfire and grenades. Mr. Calderón called the men heroes, and military officials said they joined 512 army soldiers and 39 marines who have died in the drug fight since 1976.
After the ambush, soldiers poured into the area, took over the town of Carácuaro and detained its police force on the grounds that the officers failed to come to the ambushed soldiers' defense even though they were nearby.
On Monday, also in Michoacán, soldiers attempted to search a house in Apatzingán after receiving information that drug traffickers were inside. They were met with gunfire, and after repeated calls to the seven people in the house to give up their weapons, soldiers used a grenade launcher to punch through walls, setting vehicles on fire and killing four of the trafficking suspects.
Then early Wednesday, gunmen approached a joint military-police checkpoint outside of the Pacific Coast resort of Huatulco, left their vehicles and opened fire, injuring a civilian. The soldiers returned fire, killing one of the gunmen and forcing the rest to flee on foot, according to media reports.
Later that evening, the marine bodyguard was killed in the shooting at Zihuatanejo, according to the official government news service Notimex.
Political columnist Froylán M. López Narváez tried to put Mexico's shifting landscape of violence into perspective this week in the Mexico City newspaper Reforma.
"While it's true that you can't come to the determination that Mexico is in a state of civil war ... it's not too much to say that it is suffering from a psychological war, a dirty war and a vast rural and urban guerrilla force," he wrote, referring to the drug gangs. "The majority of our citizens suffer from these wars."

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