By Ryan Mauro
November 24th, 2010
Police officers give a demonstration to students on how to position themselves in case of a shootout in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Tuesday Sept. 7, 2010. Ciudad Juarez has become one of the world's most dangerous cities amid a turf war between the Sinaloa and Juarez drug cartels.(AP)
Texas Governor Rick Perry caused a stir last week when he suggested that the deployment of U.S. troops into Mexican territory may be necessary, pointing out that five of his state’s citizens died in the past two weeks. The fight against the barbaric drug cartels has escalated each year since 2007, and terrorist groups are looking to benefit from the chaos. It has become a full-scale war worthy of attention, but Perry seems to be the only major politician sounding the alarm.
“I think you have the same situation as you had in Colombia,” Perry accurately said. About 31,000 people have been killed in the Mexican drug war since December 2006 — more than five times the number of American soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. And it is getting worse. There has been a 53 percent increase in murders since last year, with 10,000 murders so far this year.
Last week, four people in Tijuana were murdered in one day, with two having their corpses hung from a bridge and one being decapitated. Almost the entire population of 6,000 of Ciudad Mier near the Texan border has fled. A Pentecostal minister who fled said, “We have no mayor, no police, no transit system. We have been left to fend for ourselves.”
The drug cartels are so strong that the authorities fighting them must be genuinely concerned for their lives. In October, an American tourist was shot while riding a jet ski near Ciudad Mier. The investigator assigned by the Mexican authorities was killed only days later with his head found in a suitcase in front of military barracks. In August, 72 illegal immigrants on their way to the U.S. were found massacred by the Zetas at a ranch in the state of Tamaulipas that borders Mexico. Here again, the lead investigator was murdered within two days.
The violence has already spilled into the U.S. The federal government has placed signs along 60 miles of Interstate 8 in Arizona warning people of the danger in the area. This is over 100 miles north of the Mexican border and less than 50 miles south of Phoenix, well into American territory. Sheriff Paul Babeu of Pinal County says that local law enforcement has been overpowered by the cartels and that the “Mexican drug cartels literally do control parts of Arizona.”
“They literally have scouts on the high points in the mountains and in the hills and they literally control movement. They have radios, they have optics, they have night-vision goggles as good as anything law enforcement has,” Sheriff Babeu said.
There are strong indications that terrorist groups are aware of the opportunity open to them in Mexico and are taking advantage of it. In July, a Hezbollah-like car bomb killed four people in Ciudad Juarez. This came shortly after Rep. Sue Myrick reported that a high-level Mexican army officer had informed her of information about Hezbollah training drug traffickers in bomb production. Several car bombs have since been detonated in Mexico. The Mexican authorities have arrested a Hezbollah operative in Tijuana trying to set up a network using Mexican nationals with Lebanese backgrounds.
The cartels are in a very good position to help terrorist groups smuggle operatives and supplies into the U.S. The Drug Enforcement Agency recently discovered a 600-yard long underground tunnel into San Diego from Tijuana, complete with lighting and ventilation systems. The cartels have entered into business with the Colombian FARC terrorists who also deal drugs with Al-Qaeda in West Africa. Hezbollah also uses the cartel networks for its own smuggling. It is not unlikely that terrorists could use the cartels to enter the country via these tunnels or through other methods.
In February, Anthony Joseph Tracy of Virginia was arrested for having links to al-Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia. He is believed to have smuggled 270 Somalis into the U.S. from Mexico, few (if any) of which have been identified or located. The Mexican authorities are known to have detained and released members of al-Shabaab. The lack of border security is already being exploited by terrorist groups and from this one case alone, the U.S. now has potentially hundreds of Somalis in the country that were brought in by an al-Shabaab associate.
President Felipe Calderon of Mexico has deployed 45,000 soldiers in 18 states to fight the drug cartels but the violence is still escalating. He has shown the media a top-secret $100 million underground command center being used for a massive intelligence-gathering effort. He said it was inspired by the TV show, 24. At the same time, he is blaming America’s lack of gun control regulation for the arming of the drug cartels—a claim which has previously been debunked.
The drug war is also spreading into other Latin American countries. The barrio of El Gallito of Guatemala City has fallen along with other northern parts of the country. Officials have confirmed seizing military uniforms, anti-personnel mines and even anti-aircraft missiles from the Zetas drug lords. The Obama Administration’s decision to withdraw the 550 National Guards troops sent in September to the Mexican border with Texas, New Mexico and California in February shows the threat still isn’t being understood.
Texas Governor Perry is right that securing the border and fighting the drug cartels must be a top priority. We are no longer talking about the possibility that the cartels will reach into the U.S. because it has already happened. It is only a matter of time before the terrorists and drug traffickers enter into a business agreement that causes enough American death to make the border finally be taken seriously.
- Ryan Mauro is the founder of WorldThreats.com, National Security Advisor to the Christian Action Network, and an intelligence analyst with the Asymmetric Warfare and Intelligence Center.