Mexican Soldiers Freelancing for Drug Cartels on US Soil
By Kevin Mooney
CNSNews.com Staff Writer
December 21, 2006
(CNSNews.com) – Gun-toting members of the Mexican military are crossing regularly into U.S. territory, where they are partnering with drug cartels and criminal gangs to protect sophisticated smuggling operations, according to Texas sheriffs and lawmakers.
Some of the Mexican infiltrators are suspected to have been trained by the U.S. military.
U.S. Border Patrol agents and local law enforcement officials operating along the southwestern border have come under attack from the Mexican side in recent months, with automatic gunfire frequently erupting, Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) told Cybercast News Service.
Mexican military units and drug cartels have access to weaponry and communications equipment far more advanced than resources made available to U.S. officials on the state and federal level, Culberson said.
“The U.S. Border Patrol is telling its agents to just lay low and report on what they see,” he said. “They are instructed to determine the size of the [Mexican military] unit, the number of personnel, the direction of travel.”
The U.S. ambassador to Mexico has sent diplomatic notes to the Mexican government complaining about incursions into U.S. territory by “individuals dressed in military uniforms,” according to a congressional report.
Culberson plans to meet with the Mexican ambassador to discuss border issues early in the new year.
More than 200 incursions by the Mexican military of the U.S. southern border have been documented since the late 1990s, Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) said in an interview.
“Our federal government denied it occurred until the Texas sheriffs took photos,” he said. “There is no nation in the world that would allow this invasion to occur except for the United States.”
Mexican military personnel have been observed crossing the Rio Grande into Hudspeth County, Texas, in an apparent effort to safeguard drug shipments.
On one occasion early this year, deputies in pursuit of suspected drug dealers encountered “heavily armed soldiers in a Humvee,” while trying to apprehend individuals driving “load vehicles” for drug shipments, Hudspeth Sheriff Arvin West told a congressional hearing subsequently.
Although some of the narcotics were seized, the deputies were forced to suspend their pursuit once the Mexican soldiers intervened, according to West’s testimony.
Sheriffs in neighboring parts of Texas are also familiar with the techniques used to protect drug shipments in Hudspeth.
According to Sheriff Leo Samaniego of El Paso County, Mexican soldiers perform “flanking maneuvers,” forcing deputies into defensive positions.
“They are very involved in safeguarding these drug shipments,” he said of the Mexican troops.
Samaniego said he was in contact with farmers in the area who reported witnessing such incidents regularly.
Samaniego recalled another Mexican military incursion he said had taken place in Santa Teresa, N.M., located across the state line from El Paso. Mexican soldiers in two Humvees “chased after” a U.S. Border Patrol agent until backup arrived while another U.S. agent also came under gunfire, Samaniego told Cybercast News Service.
“Mexican officials gave the excuse that it was a new military unit that got lost and didn’t know it was in the U.S.,” he said. “But I find this hard to believe.”
‘Trained in the US’
Some of the Mexican soldiers collaborating with drug cartels were trained at one time at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga., said Sheriff Rick Flores of Webb County.
Although they were trained to combat “narco-terrorism” many such soldiers are ultimately lured by the fact they can make substantially more money working with the cartels, Flores said in an interview.
“We train people to fight bad elements and help restore order but they end up defecting,” he said. “Then we end up fighting them after we train them.”
The power and influence of the drug cartels is difficult to overstate, Flores contended. They are in control of almost “every type of business” in Mexico and boast almost unlimited resources.
Webb County has also experienced an influx of Mexican soldiers who appear to be working on behalf of the cartels and other criminals, Flores said.
“Our drug enforcement taskforce came across soldiers dressed in black clad uniforms near Highway 83. They were marching in cadence and pretty much scared the hell out of our people. They had fully automatic AK 47s wrapped around their arms and they were carrying duffle bags with their free arms. It was pretty freaky,” Flores said.
A report on security threats to the southwestern border, provided by the House Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittee on investigations, refers to a growing nexus between drug cartels, criminal gangs and Mexican military personnel.
Some of the gangs mentioned in the report include the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), the Mexican Mafia, and the Texas Syndicate.
Zapata County Sherriff Sigifredo Gonzalez told Cybercast News Service the cartels were equipped with a military grade arsenal and an intelligence network that poses a threat to American local and federal officials.
Cybercast News Service reported previously that some cartels have the ability to eavesdrop on U.S. law enforcement agencies’ communications.
Last July, deputies from Hidalgo – two counties away from Zapata – responded to an emergency call and found themselves targeted by “300 to 400 rounds of automatic gunfire from the Mexican side, for about 10 minutes,” Gonzalez reported.
With such incidents continuing along the border, the Zapata sheriff said in time there would inevitably be casualties on the U.S. side. In just the past few weeks, he added, U.S. National Guard members had come under fire in neighboring Starr County.
There are also signs the criminal gangs are becoming bolder.
Rick Glancey, the interim executive director of the Southwestern Border Sheriff’s Coalition, says drug cartels have diversified operations and are now smuggling both narcotics and humans.
According to the congressional committee report, the Texas-Mexico border includes 18 points of entry into the U.S. that are attractive to drug cartels and other criminal enterprises.
Further complicating security concerns, Gonzales pointed out that an extensive train system, with trains ranging from 90 to 160 cars, also travels from Guatemala, through Mexico and ending adjacent to the Texas border.
The train system enables the smuggling operations to access major interstate highways in Brownsville, McAllen, Laredo and El Paso that serve as a gateway into the U.S., providing cartels with enormous opportunities, Glancey said.
Currently, competing cartels are fighting for control of a highly prized corridor into the U.S. called “the plaza,” said Flores. He voiced concerns that inter-gang violence may spill over the U.S. side and threaten citizens in his jurisdiction and in other parts of Texas.
The Mexican Embassy in the U.S. this week declined an invitation to comment on allegations of Mexican soldiers’ presence in Texas. The embassy did make available a Mexican foreign ministry statement on the incident in Hudspeth County in early 2006.
It said the Mexican government concluded that the “uniforms, insignia, vehicles and arms” used by the individuals involved “do not correspond to those used by Mexican armed forces.”
The government contended that “no members of the Mexican army participated in the incident” and that the armed individuals were attached to a “drug trafficking organization.”