Just a few miles from Texas on the Mexican side of the border teams of drug cartel enforcers are being trained. These are not simply bands of local thugs. They are carefully recruited, well-motivated, mercenary killers.
The especially interesting fact about these gunmen is that beside Mexicans they include other Latin Americans as well as some young North American "gringos." This information from several captured dealers, and confirmed by U.S. sources, comes from a report of the Mexican Attorney General.
The various U.S. government agencies involved in anti-drug and anti-terrorism operations have taken particular note of this recruitment and training program. While much of the training has gone on in nearby Mexican states along the border, there have been reports of similar activity many hundreds of miles away in the interior of Mexico.
Mexican army units had to go into Juarez recently to flush out the powerful gangs that have taken over this city just across the border from El Paso. Mexican authorities have limited ability to interdict the paramilitary training operations in their states abutting Texas any more than control the cartels' dominance of the border towns themselves.
The hills and ravines of the region act, as they always have, as excellent covert sites for criminal gangs as well as pseudo-revolutionaries. Now many of these remote encampments work well as training grounds for drug cartel recruits and gun runners.
The national and ethnic mixture of the trainee mercenaries is a profound problem. So indeed is their eventual role. These armed gangs must have the ability not only to fight off law enforcement, but they must also have the capability to protect their turf from encroachment by rivals -- on both sides of the border.
The objective in their training apparently now has been expanded to include use and maintenance of more sophisticated weaponry as well as disciplined physical endurance. These groups of ten to twelve men, regularly moving on every other week for security purposes to alternate sites, operate not unlike similar training cadres of local irregular forces around the world, some of whom indeed have Al Qaeda ties. While the similarity is disturbing, Islamic radicals have no monopoly on this sort of regimen.
OF COURSE THE POTENTIAL for embedding Al Qaeda agents among these cartel members has long been a worry. The CIA director, Gen. Michael Hayden, recently reminded everyone that Osama bin Laden's operatives are being recruited from non-Arab appearing sources. The potential of infiltration into the U.S. via the Mexican drug and gun running nets becomes even higher.
In this regard the various federal agencies targeted at illegal border crossers are now particularly interested in any Caucasians or Asians rumored to be among the trainees captured in raids on both sides of the border. Whatever their ethnic character, however, these new cartel "soldiers" are hidden in remote ranches and desolate hideaways close enough to the U.S. border -- and Texas in particular -- in a continuing training cycle of target shooting, escape and evasion, physical strengthening, and other operational skills.
It is worthwhile to emphasize the closeness of the training sites to the U.S. border. Obviously this allows an easy two-way conduit for human smuggling and narcotics and weapons trafficking -- a commerce modestly calculated at a value of $25 billion a year.
The Wild West aspect of these illicit operations is a bit beyond the comprehension of political and law enforcement executives who tend to think in American First World terms. Countering multiple "hole-in-the-wall" gangs operating out of Third World rural Mexico is well understood by local American southwesterners, but is about as far from Washington's ken as tribal life in Waziristan.
THE MEXICO/U.S. BORDER has been an area of contested dominance going back to before the Civil War. Cross border commerce, legal and illegal, has been the lifeblood of the region. American criminals fled southward and stolen cattle were herded both ways. There are many stories of American lawmen dashing over the border to drag back the bad guys. It's amazing how recent it has been since such clandestine incursions were commonplace.
Now the balance of illicit commerce has swung decidedly to a south/north route, but the lawlessness of one type or another has existed for generations. Not much really has changed -- except the stakes are higher. Everyone who wants to knows one of the best ways to infiltrate the United States is to follow the traditional route -- through the harsh terrain of northern Mexico and its ever poverty-stricken inhabitants.
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