Small Wars Journal

Mexican Cartel Note

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #11A

Wed, 05/30/2012 - 6:42am

This is an addendum on the potential source of MG-34 GPMGs seized by the Mexican Government at Ixtlan del Rio, Nayarit, as originally discussed in Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #11.

Note: The presence of MG-34 General Purpose Machine Guns in Mexico can be traced back to the 1954 Guatemalan Civil War and illuminates often-ignored arms smuggling routes into southern Mexico.

Key Information: Kristen Bricker, Chiapas Government Tries to Pin Narco Arsenal on Peasant Leader, Narconews, October 2009

Another MG-34 (initially misidentified as a “Barrett”) was part of what was described as the largest weapons seizure in the history of Chiapas, and the biggest weapons seizure in the entire country to that date in 2009. While the Mexican government claimed that the cache belonged to Chiapan peasant leader Jose Manuel “Don Chema” Hernandez Martinez, substantial circumstantial evidence actually pointed to the Zeta cartel ownership. Martinez was arrested on September 30th and subsequently released on November 24th, 2009.

Who:  Chiapan peasant leader Jose Manuel “Don Chema” Hernandez Martinez, probably Zeta cartel.

What: Weapons cache seizure by the Mexican Government.

When: Reportedly October 9, 2009, press release dated October 18, 2009

Why: Conflicting arrest accounts of three men later linked to the Zeta cartel

Where: Frontera Comalapa, Chiapas, Mexico

Photo Analysis : MG-34 seized in October 2009 raid, originally misidentified as a “Barrett”.

Note: The most likely source for the 7.92mm MG 34 General Purpose Machine Guns seized in October 2009 and January 2012 was a 1954 Czechoslovakian shipment to Guatemala. At that time, Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán circumvented an arms embargo by arranging for two thousand tons of weaponry to be smuggled into his country via the Swedish motor vessel Alfhem. 

While the vast majority was detritus from Czech arsenals, part of the Alfhem’s cargo included 7.92mm MG-34 GPMGs (along with 9mm MP-40 submachine guns, 7.92mm K98 and G43 rifles) which were delivered to the Guatemalan Army’s 1st and 2nd Regiments. A period post-coup newsreel about Carlos Castillo Armas clearly shows several of these weapons on display at the 1.09 mark.

Exactly how and when these weapons could have crossed into Mexico over the next 55 years remains a mystery, but corruption has been singled out as the main problem affecting Mexico’s southern border management and the Customs Service.

While most of the media’s attention still focuses on Mexico’s northern border, Guatemala remains a major source country for cartel weaponry (both Central American Cold War left-overs and new arms trafficked into Guatemala from the U.S.).

Ironically, former CIA employee Samuel Cummings’ INTERARMCO was the first arms dealer to set up shop in Guatemala, re-equipping the 5,000-strong army in 1954 with American WWII weaponry surplused from Britain.

As noted in #11, the absence of linked ammunition at the time that the weapons were recovered indicates a potential lack of tactical relevance. While the MG-34 and MG-42 share the same non-disintegrating belts, the 7.62 NATO MG-3 (a modernized MG-42 license produced by SEDENA in Mexico) uses M13 disintegrating links. Substitution of disintegrating link belts for non-disintegrating would be problematic, without some imaginative modifications.

Significance: Cartel Weaponry, Smuggling Routes, Weapons Sources (Potentials)

Further Reading(s):

Jorge Kawas, “Guatemala and the Black Market for US Weapons”, Insight Magazine, November 25, 2011

K. Bricker, “OCEZ Political Prisoners' First Day Of Freedom After Nearly Two Months",, November 2009

David M. Barrett, “Congress, the CIA, and Guatemala, 1954”, Center for the Study of Intelligence

CIA documents relating to the 1954 Guatemalan Civil War


Johnson, George B. & Hans Bert Lockhoven, INTERNATIONAL ARMAMENT. Vol. II. International Small Arms Publishers, Cologne, Germany. 1965.

Brogan, Patrick & and Albert Zarca, DEADLY BUSINESS: Sam Cummings, Interarms, and the Arms Trade, Norton, 1983.

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #11

Thu, 05/24/2012 - 1:07am

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #11: MG 34 Machine Guns Recovered in Nayarit— Hezbollah Arms Transfer Concerns

Note— This incident is extremely fragmentary and a minor footnote to a larger report by Borderland Beat. Five pictures of recovered weapons, ammunition in plastic bags, and license plates were posted along with the key information. What is significant, however, are the recovered machine guns that appeared in one of the photos.

Key Information: Via Gerardo, “Nayarit update.” Borderland Beat. Tuesday, January 17, 2012.

On Monday the Mexican Army announced the seizure of weapons and vehicles in the municipality of Ixtlan del Rio, Nayarit.

A total of 14 rifles and automatic weapons, 5 handguns, 2 grenade launchers, tactical equipment, 2,573 rounds of ammunition and 3 vehicles, one of which was armored, were secured.

No arrests were announced by the Army.


Who:  Unknown cartel or drug gang. Criminal enforcer units operating in the vicinity of the Nayarit plaza are though to include those belonging to the Sinaloa cartel, Beltran Leyva loyalists, and Los Zetas.

What:  Weapons and vehicle seizure by the Mexican Army.

When: Seizure announced Monday, January 16, 2012.

Where: Ixtlan del Rio, Nayarit.

Why:  Unknown military action. Part of general offensive promoted by Governor Roberto Sandoval who took office in September 2011.

Photo Analysis:

Weapon / Component Identification – Nayarit Incident

(SEDENA/For Public Distribution)

  1. MG 34 Machine gun, 7.92 x 57mm belt-fed, bipod missing, no rear stock.
  2. 12 ga. Shotgun, exact model not determined.
  3. MG 34 Machine gun, 7.92 x 57mm belt-fed, non-original synthetic stock adapted to fit receiver.
  4. 12 ga. Shotgun, SWD mfg., 12-shot with folding stock.
  5. Grenade Launcher, 40mm, fitted with an M-4 collapsible stock, origin unknown.
  6. Grenade Launcher, 40mm, lower rifle mount. 
  7. 7.62 x 39mm SKS Carbine, Eastern Bloc.
  8. 12 ga. Shotgun, possibly semi-auto with receiver modifications.
  9. .30 cal. M1 Carbine action; barrel cut down to approximately 10-inches and set into a hand made stock to make a weapon similar appearance and function to the U.S. made “Enforcer” model produced by the Universal Arms Corp. in the 1960 – 70’s.


Note: The MG 34 Machine guns appearing in action in this location in January 2012 are extremely unusual.  The MG-34 was originally produced by three companies in both Germany and Austria during WWII for use by German troops.  The last ones that were observed in any known conflict appeared in Lebanon in 1975 – 1976 and were utilized by Hezbollah fighters.  The MG 34 has a very high cyclic rate; 900 rpm.  At this rate of fire, untrained personnel will expend their ammunition quickly.  This may, in fact, be evident by the absence of linked ammunition present at the time that the weapons were recovered.

Significance: Cartel Weaponry, Terrorist Arms Transfer (Potentials)

Further Reading(s): David A. Kuhn and Robert J. Bunker. “Just where do Mexican cartel weapons come from?” Small Wars & Insurgencies. Robert J. Bunker, ed., Special issue “Criminal Insurgencies in Mexico and the Americas: The Gangs and Cartels Wage War.” Vol. 22. No. 5 (December 2011): 807-834.

Tags: El Centro, Mexican Cartel Note, Tactical Note

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #10

Mon, 05/14/2012 - 5:37am

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #10

by David A. Kuhn and Robert J. Bunker

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #10: Claymore Anti-Personnel Mine (and Other Military Hardware) Recovered in Zacatecas

Note—The key information has not been translated into English. It is being provided below as raw Spanish language OSINT for context/to allow for more in depth future analysis due to the significance of the Claymore anti-personnel mine that was recovered. We wish to thank Chris Covert for alerting us to this weapons recovery incident.

Key Information: Personal militar repele agresión armada, asegura droga y armamento en diferentes municipios del estado de Zacatecas. Guadalupe, Zac., a 28 de enero del 2012. Guadalupe, Zac., a 28 de enero del 2012.

Hay cinco personas detenidas.

La Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, a través de las Comandancias de la V Región Militar y 11/a. Zona Militar, informa a la opinión pública que en el marco de la Estrategia Integral del Estado Mexicano en contra del Narcotráfico y Delincuencia Organizada, los días 26 y 27 de enero del presente año, personal militar jurisdiccionado a este mando territorial, en atención a una denuncia ciudadana efectuaron reconocimientos terrestres en los municipios de Teul de González Ortega, y Florencia de Benito Juárez, Zac., donde fueron agredidos con disparos de armas de fuego por un número indeterminado de personas, por lo que en defensa de su integridad física y de la población civil, los efectivos militares repelieron la agresión, falleciendo en el lugar de los hechos tres agresores y logrando la detención de cinco individuos más; realizando los siguientes aseguramientos.:

    * 181 kilos con 400 gramos de mariguana.

    * 6 armas largas.

    * 1 arma corta.

    * 122 cargadores para diversas armas.

    * 1,052 cartuchos de diferentes calibres.

    * 1 mina antipersonal.

    * 2 granadas de mano.

    * Equipo táctico diverso.

    * 5 vehículos asegurados (3 con reporte de robo).

Con acciones como esta, La Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, ratifica su compromiso de continuar combatiendo frontalmente al narcotráfico y crimen organizado, con el objeto de devolver la seguridad y paz social que demanda el pueblo de México, invitando a la sociedad a denunciar cualquier actividad ilícita que observe, al número telefónico lada sin costo 01800 507 6081 y correo electrónico denuncia.11zm@mail.sedena.gob.mxEsta dirección electrónica esta protegida contra spam bots. Necesita activar 

Ver más comunicados.

Blvd. Manuel Ávila Camacho S/N. Esq. Av. Ind. Mil., Col. Lomas de Sotelo; Deleg. Miguel Hidalgo, D.F. C.P. 11640 Tel. 21228800. Comentarios sobre este Sitio de Internet Comentarios y Sugerencias sobre éste sitio de Internet.

Key Information: Decomisa Sedena, mina antipersonal en Zacatecas (Teúl y Florencia). Escrito por El Eco del Cañón on ene 29th, 2012 y presentadas en Regionales, Teúl, Zacatecas. Puedes seguir cualquier respuesta a esta entrada a traves de la RSS 2.0. Ambos comentarios y pings estan actualmente cerrados.

Guadalupe, Zac.- La Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional (Sedena), informó que tras sendos enfrentamientos en Teúl de González Ortega y Florencia de Benito Juárez, en el que fallecieron tres sicarios y cinco más fueron detenidos, se decomisó la primera mina personal en la entidad.

En comunicado de prensa, la Sedena informó que los días 26 y 27 de enero del presente año, personal militar jurisdiccionado a las Comandancias de la V Región Militar y XI Zona Militar, fueron agredidos con disparos de armas de fuego por un número indeterminado de personas.

Así, en respuesta y defensa de su integridad física y de la población civil, los efectivos militares repelieron la agresión, falleciendo en el lugar de los hechos tres agresores y logrando la detención de cinco individuos.

En el operativo posterior se decomisaron 181 kilos con 400 gramos de mariguana; seis armas largas; un arma corta; 122 cargadores para diversas armas y mil 52 cartuchos de diferentes calibres.

También una mina antipersonal, dos granadas de mano, equipo táctico diverso y cinco vehículos asegurados tres con reporte de robo).

Who: Narcotics (marijuana) traffickers in Zacatecas.

What: Engagement between Mexican military personnel and traffickers who had a large amount of marijuana and military weapons and hardware in their possession. 3 traffickers were killed and 5 were arrested. No military casualties reported.

When:  January 26-27, 2012.

Where: The municipalities of Teul de González Ortega and Florencia de Benito Juárez in the state of Zacatecas. Military Region V and XI Military Zone.

Why: Defensive action by deployed Mexican military forces against criminal (narco) insurgent forces.

Photo Analysis: The photograph of the weaponry recovered and shown on the tarp is from La Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional (SEDENA). The weapons and other military hardware have been labeled from 1 to 10 and are as follows:

Cartel Weapons / Explosives on Tarp

(SEDENA/For Public Distribution)

  1. Ammunition, .30 cal., exact cartridge type unknown.
  2. AK-47 action; set into a polymer stock (folding).
  3. M-26A1 Hand grenade, delay fragmentation.
  4. 40mm HE or HEDP, Spin-stabilized (model not identifiable).
  5. M18A1 Claymore Anti-personnel Mine (or exact foreign production copy). [See note].
  6. M18A1 electrical wire (detonating) and storage reel.
  7. Firing Device, electric impulse, hand, M18A1 Claymore AP Mine.
  8. Electrical wire, supplemental, M18A1.
  9. Magazines, 7.62 x 39mm, 30-round capacity; Magazine count:  53; Total rounds:  1,590 rnds. (Note the magazine on the extreme left.  It appears to have sustained gunfire damage.)

   10)   The area identified as “10” appears to be improvised body armor sets totaling three in number.

The body armor appears to be of carbon steel alloy, and constructed using professional fabrication techniques and machinery.  It appears to be constructed of at least 4-gage (.204-inch) sheet steel or greater.  There may be additional ceramic plate armor and padding on the interior of the armor that is out of view.


M18A1 Claymore AP Mine [Item No. 5]: The U.S. M18A1 Claymore Anti-personnel Mine is widely copied by a number of countries; however, there are only a few that can be considered “exact,” or “close” copies for the purposes of general appearance.  Two examples of these would be the South African Shrapnel Mine No. 2 and the Chinese Type 66 (the Type 66 does not have “FRONT TOWARD ENEMY” in raised lettering across the face of the mine that appears on the standard M18A1).  The mine shown face down in the photograph could, in fact, be one of these close foreign copies.

Items #5-8 composing the Claymore Anti-personnel Mine system is a significant weapons recovery. Earlier reports of such mines being in the inventory of cartel enforcers and traffickers have been made but no photographic evidence has been provided. The effects of such a mine can be viewed at: M18A1 Claymore Directional AP Mine,

The M18A1 Claymore: These mines can be effectively used in ambushes and booby traps against dismounted Mexican military and law enforcement personnel.  The M18A1 “Claymore” Anti-personnel Mine carries an explosive weight of 682-grams (1.50-lbs. of Composition C-4).  It will deliver steel fragments over a 60° fan-shaped pattern that is 50-meters wide and 2-meters in height, and is effective up to a range of 100-meters.  These blast fragments are still dangerous up to 250-meters forward of the mine.  Their fielding and use in tandem with low yield car bombs (VBIEDs) and/or hasty assaults to create kill zones in to which military and federal police small units are forced/drawn and channeled into must now be considered.  Additionally, terrorists favor mines such as these as they often contain additional fuze wells (for blasting cap detonators) that will allow the mine to be detonated as a boobytrap device in a variety of scenarios that are well outside of a conventional battlefield environment.  The M18A1 Claymore is equipped with two separate fuze wells.

Significance: Ambushes, Booby Traps, Cartel Weaponry

Tags: El Centro, Mexican Cartel Note, Tactical Note

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 12

Thu, 02/16/2012 - 10:32am

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 12:  The Spreading Criminal Insurgencies in Mexico: States With U.S. State Department Travel Advisories

Via: Geoffrey Ramsey, “Mexico Official Admits Some Areas Out of Govt Control.” In Sight: Organized Crime in the Americas. 10 February 2012 [1]:

At a military ceremony yesterday, Mexican Defense Minister Guillermo Galvan Galva described the national security situation in stark terms. “Clearly, in some sectors of the country public security has been completely overrun,” said Galvan, adding that “it should be recognized that national security is seriously threatened.” He went on to say that organized crime in the country has managed to penetrate not only society, but also the country’s state institutions.

Galvan also endorsed the military’s role in combating insecurity, asserting that although they have a responsibility to acknowledge that “there have been mistakes,” the armed forces have an “unrestricted” respect for human rights…

Via U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE, Bureau of Consular Affairs, “Travel Warning: Mexico.” 8 February 2012 [2].

The Department of State has issued this Travel Warning to inform U.S. citizens about the security situation in Mexico.  General information on the overall security situation is provided immediately below.  For information on security conditions in specific regions of Mexico, which can vary, travelers should reference the state-by-state assessments further below.

This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning for Mexico dated April 22, 2011 to consolidate and update information about the security situation and to advise the public of additional restrictions on the travel of U.S. government (USG) personnel…

General Conditions:

…Gun battles between rival TCOs or with Mexican authorities have taken place in towns and cities in many parts of Mexico, especially in the border region.  Gun battles have occurred in broad daylight on streets and in other public venues, such as restaurants and clubs.  During some of these incidents, U.S. citizens have been trapped and temporarily prevented from leaving the area.  TCOs use stolen cars and trucks to create roadblocks on major thoroughfares, preventing the military and police from responding to criminal activity.  The location and timing of future armed engagements is unpredictable.  We recommend that you defer travel to the areas indicated in this Travel Warning and to exercise extreme caution when traveling throughout the northern border region…

State-by-State Assessment:

Below is a state-by-state assessment of security conditions throughout Mexico divided into northern and southern regions.  The accompanying map will help in identifying individual locations.  Travelers should be mindful that even if no advisories are in effect for a given state, crime and violence can occur anywhere.  For general information about travel conditions in Mexico, see our Country Specific Information.

Northern Mexico

Baja California (north): Tijuana is a major city/travel destination in the Northern portion of Baja California…You should exercise caution in the northern state of Baja California, particularly at night…

Chihuahua: Juarez and Chihuahua are the major cities/travel destinations in Chihuahua…You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Chihuahua…

Coahuila: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Coahuila.  The State of Coahuila continues to experience high rates of violent crimes and narcotics-related murders…

Durango: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Durango.  Between 2006 and 2010, the number of narcotics-related murders in the State of Durango increased dramatically…

Nuevo Leon: Monterrey is a major city/travel destination in Nuevo Leon…You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Nuevo Leon, except the metropolitan area of Monterrey where you should exercise caution…

San Luis Potosi: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of San Luis Potosi, except the city of San Luis Potosi where you should exercise caution.  The entire stretch of highway 57D in San Luis Potosi and portions of the state east of highway 57D towards Tamaulipas are particularly dangerous…

Sinaloa: Mazatlan is a major city/travel destination in Sinaloa…You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Sinaloa except the city of Mazatlan where you should exercise caution particularly late at night and in the early morning.  One of Mexico's most powerful TCOs is based in the state of Sinaloa.  With the exception of Ciudad Juarez, since 2006 more homicides have occurred in the state's capital city of Culiacan than in any other city in Mexico…

Sonora: Nogales and Puerto Peñasco are the major cities/travel destinations in Sonora…You should defer non-essential travel between the city of Nogales and the cities of Sonoyta and Caborca (which area also includes the smaller cities of Saric, Tubutama, and Altar), defer non-essential travel to the eastern edge of the State of Sonora which borders the State of Chihuahua (all points along that border east of the northern city of Agua Prieta and the southern town of Alamos), defer non-essential travel within the state south of the city of Ciudad Obregon with the exception of travel to Alamos (traveling only during daylight hours and using only the Highway 15 toll road, aka cuota, and Sonora State Road 162), and exercise caution when visiting the coastal town of Puerto Peñasco…

Tamaulipas: Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, and Tampico are the major cities/travel destinations in Tamaulipas…You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Tamaulipas.  All USG employees are: prohibited from personal travel on Tamaulipas highways outside of Matamoros, Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo due to the risks posed by armed robbery and carjacking; may not frequent casinos and adult entertainment establishments within these cities; and in Matamoros are subject to a midnight to 6 a.m. curfew.  Be aware of the risks posed by armed robbery and carjacking on state highways throughout Tamaulipas…

Zacatecas: You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Zacatecas except the city of Zacatecas where you should exercise caution.  The regions of the state bordering Durango and Coahuila as well as the cities of Fresnillo and Fresnillo-Sombrete and surrounding area are particularly dangerous.  The northwestern portion of the state of Zacatecas has become notably dangerous and insecure.  Robberies and carjackings are occurring with increased frequency and both local authorities and residents have reported a surge in observed TCO activity.  This area is remote, and local authorities are unable to regularly patrol it or quickly respond to incidents that occur there.  Gun battles between criminal groups and authorities occur in the area of the state bordering the state of Jalisco.  There have also been reports of roadblocks and false checkpoints on highways between the states of Zacatecas and Jalisco…

Southern Mexico

Aguascalientes: You should defer non-essential travel to the areas of the state that border the state of Zacatecas.  The security situation along the Zacatecas border continues to be unstable and gun battles between criminal groups and authorities occur.  Concerns include roadblocks placed by individuals posing as police or military personnel and recent gun battles between rival TCOs involving automatic weapons.

Colima: Manzanillo is a major city/travel destination in Colima…You should exercise extreme caution when traveling through the areas of the state of Colima that border the state of Michoacán.  You should also exercise caution when traveling at night outside of cities in the remaining portions of the state.  The security situation along the Michoacán border continues to be unstable and gun battles between criminal groups and authorities occur.  Concerns include roadblocks placed by individuals posing as police or military personnel and recent gun battles between rival TCOs involving automatic weapons.

Guerrero: Acapulco, Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo and Taxco are the major cities/travel destinations in Guerrero…You should defer non-essential travel to the northwestern and southern portions of the state (the area west and south of the town of Arcelia on the border with Estado de Mexico in the north and the town of Tlapa near the border with Oaxaca), except for the cities of Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, and Ixtapa.  In those cities, you should exercise caution and stay within tourist areas…

Jalisco Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta are the major cities/travel destinations in Jalisco…You should defer non-essential travel to areas of the state that border the states of Michoacán and Zacatecas.  You should also exercise caution when traveling at night outside of cities in the remaining portions of this state…

Michoacán: Morelia is a major city/travel destination in Michoacán…You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Michoacán except the cities of Morelia and Lázaro Cardenas where you should exercise caution.  Flying into Morelia and Lázaro Cardenas, or driving to Lázaro Cardenas via highway 200 from Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa, are the recommended methods of travel.  Attacks on Mexican government officials, law enforcement and military personnel, and other incidents of TCO-related violence, have occurred throughout Michoacán.

Morelos: Cuernavaca is a major city/travel destination in Morelos…You should exercise caution in the state of Morelos due to the unpredictable nature of TCO violence.  Numerous incidents of narcotics-related violence have occurred in the city of Cuernavaca, a popular destination for U.S. students.

Nayarit: You should defer non-essential travel to all areas of the state of Nayarit north of the city of Tepic as well as to the cities of Tepic and Xalisco.  The security situation north of Tepic and in these cities is unstable and travelers could encounter roadblocks or shootouts between rival criminals…

Veracruz: You should exercise caution when traveling in the state of Veracruz.  In recent months, the state of Veracruz has seen an increase in violence among rival criminal organizations.  In response, the Government of Mexico has sent additional military and federal police to the state to assist State security forces in implementing operation “Veracruz Seguro” (Secure Veracruz) that focuses on combating organized crime.

Analysis: Mexican Defense Minister Guillermo Galvan Galva’s statement that some sectors of the country’s public security have been completely overrun represents a rare and honest appraisal of what is becoming an increasingly threatening situation to Mexican state sovereignty [3]. To place this threat in perspective, the new U.S. Department of State travel advisory for Mexico suggests that the entire Northern half of Mexico is now witnessing criminal insurgencies of such intensity that all of the states within it (except for Baja California Sur) have travel warnings for U.S. citizens. Southern Mexico is faring marginally better with travel advisories for Aguascalientes, Colima, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán, Morelos, Nayarit, and Veracruz while no travel advisories exist for Campeche, Chiapas, Estado de Mexico, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Mexico City (also known as the Federal District), Oaxaca, Puebla, Queretaro, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Tlaxcala, and Yucatan.

To place the U.S. Department of State advisory in geographic context, see the following map of Mexican states with advisories labeled in red:

Mexico City was once considered one of the most dangerous places in the country but increasingly is considered a bastion of stability in an otherwise troubled nation— with over 50,000 deaths attributed to the criminal insurgencies since December 2006. This is to be expected as the political elites and centralized government have expended resources to increase security of the capitol city and surrounding territories.

Of interest are the contradictory trends mentioned in the State Department document. These were picked up by the Washington Post and other major newspapers [4]:

The advisory does note that “millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism, and business, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day.” Still, it says, U.S. travelers should be aware of Mexico’s efforts against “TCOs [transnational crime organizations] which engage in narcotics trafficking and other lawful activities” throughout the country.

Mexico is a country of 110 million people, so the odds of running into trouble are low. The number of U.S. citizens reported to the State Department as murdered in Mexico increased from 35 in 2007 to 120 in 2011.

Even the Mexican economy as defined by GDP, while only expected to grow at 3.2% in 2012 (as opposed to 3.8% in 2011), is seemingly doing well with business sentiments appearing optimistic in January 2012 [5].

What these contradictory trends suggest is that the spreading criminal insurgencies taking place in Mexico, while threatening to the legitimate federal government, are not necessarily bad for the overall functioning of the Mexican economy [6]. Similar trends, on a micro level, were noted in Miami, Florida during the Cocaine Wars of the 1970s and 1980s when much of the Miami skyline was built. Ultimately, the illicit economy injected hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more, into the formal economy. The same process is occurring in Mexico except that is taking place yearly at the tens of billions of dollars level and, as an aggregate over time, amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars.

Still, this brings us back to Defense Minister Guillermo Galvan Galva’s statement— Mexican national security is seriously threatened. Or, more accurately, the sovereign state is seriously threatened and is increasingly being decoupled from the globalized economy to which Mexico has structurally reformed itself and acceded to NAFTA and other international trade agreements. Terms used to identify such a scenario—depending on where it exists on a continuum of who is in charge—are Phillip Bobbitt’s ‘market state’, John Robb’s ‘hollow state’, and my own ‘criminal state’ construct.

End Note(s):

1. For the original Spanish article pertaining to the Defense Minister’s remarks see Jorge Ramos Pérez, “Amenazada, seguridad del país: Galván.” El Universal. Viernes 10 de febrero de 2012.


3. For additional analysis see Geoffrey Ramsey, “Mexico Official Admits Some Areas Out of Govt Control.” In Sight: Organized Crime in the Americas. 10 February 2012.

4. William Booth, “U.S. updates travel warning for Mexico.” The Washington Post. 9 February 2012.

5. “Mexico Economic Indicators – February 2012.” CEB Views. February 2012.

6. The GDP projections themselves may be called into question because they were mentioned alongside an unemployment figure of 4.5% in December 2011 which is totally unrealistic. Ibid

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #9

Fri, 01/20/2012 - 9:50am

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #9: Decapitated Adult Male with Hands and Feet Removed:

Found on Side of a Dirt Road Near Marana (Pima County) Arizona

Key Information:

Via Veronica M. Cruz, “Decapitated body found near Tucson Mountains.” Arizona Daily Star. Saturday 7 January 2012:

A man’s decapitated body was found on the side of a dirt road Friday morning west of the Tucson Mountains.

The hands and feet also had also been removed from the body discovered in the 2300 block of North Reservation Road and West Mile Wide Road. None of the missing body parts were found at the scene, Pima County sheriff’s Bureau Chief Rick Kastigar said.

The body was discovered by two men cutting grass along the road to feed their animals, he said.

The men flagged down Bureau of Land Management Rangers and border patrol agents in the area, but were released before deputies could question them, Kastigar said.

“We don’t know who they are or where they came from,” Kastigar said of pair who reported the discovery. “We don’t know their association to the crime.”

Other evidence was found at the scene but Kastigar could not provide details, citing the ongoing investigation.

Kastigar said that neither he nor the department’s veteran investigators have dealt with a case like this before.

“I can tell you that the crime of murder is not necessarily new to that part of the county,” Kastigar said. Homicide victims have been found in the remote area.

An autopsy is scheduled for today.

Sheriff’s deputies are asking for anyone with information to call to call 911 or 88-CRIME (882-7463) [1].

See (Ch 4 News Tucson, AZ) 1:23 minute video at

For information on this incident and on other Mexican cartel beheadings in the US see (Ch 5 News Rio Grande Valley, TX) 1:45 minute video at

Who: Unknown adult male. Ethnicity and/or distinguishing features not provided.

What: Beheading and partial dismemberment; hands and feet removed.

When: Estimates are that the body was not at the location more than 24 hours which would place the body dump on roughly  Thursday 5 January 2012 [3].

Where: On the side of a dirt road near Marana (Pima County) Arizona— 2300 block of North Reservation Road and West Mile Wide Road [2]. This is a rural area North-West of Tucson with the interstate I-10, linking Phoenix and Tucson, about 15 miles to the East.

Why: The working assumption is that this is Mexican cartel related [4], though the homicide is still under investigation. The lead investigative agency is the Pima County Sheriff’s Office.  

Tactical Analysis: The beheading and partial dismemberment of the adult male has all the trademarks of a Mexican cartel killing although this homicide will likely never be solved in the near term [5]. No mention of tattoos on the body or personal items have been made in the news reports which would help to identify potential cartel and gang linkages. None of the victim’s removed body parts have been located [1] and investigating detectives said that the body also suffered other obvious signs of trauma [2]. Lack of the head and other body parts at the body dump scene (potential crime scene unlikely) indicate that the perpetrators did not want the victim identified. The mention of ‘obvious signs of trauma’ is assumed to mean physical abuse and/or blunt force or penetrating trauma [eg. bladed weapon or gunshot(s)]. It is noted that the body was dumped by the side of a dirt road. The body could have instead been buried in a shallow grave further away from the road which could mean (a). The perpetrators wanted the body found (possibly as a warning to others linked to their activities) or (b). Due to time or operational security (OPSEC) reasons they decided to leave the body out in the open. Past cartel TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) would suggest that the perpetrators wanted the body found to make a statement to other illicit narcotics and/or human trafficking smugglers. A body dump to dispose of a kidnapping victim (for family extortion purposes) also has to be considered but would appear highly unlikely. This incident will now likely end the debate concerning whether beheadings have taken place in the Arizona desert— though technically the victim may have been killed indoors for OPSEC reasons. While no such Arizona desert beheadings had been identified prior to this incident this cartel violence spillover ‘firebreak’ now appears to have been crossed [6].

Significance: Beheading; Cartel Tactics; Cartel TTPs; Cross Border Violence


1. Veronica M. Cruz, “Decapitated body found near Tucson Mountains.” Arizona Daily Star. Saturday 7 January 2012. Note—typos in original article.

2.  “Decapitated Body Found in Area West of Tucson.” Friday 6 January 2012. Includes 2 crime scene photos.

3. Ina Ronquillo, “Beheaded murder victim found in Marana area.” Kgun-TV Tucson, AZ. Friday 6 January 2012.

4. See former DEA supervisor Phil Jordan’s analysis. “Expert Says Beheadings in U.S. Look Like Work of Cartels.” Tuesday 10 January 2012.

5. Such incidents have the potential to be solved many months, even years, later when cartel and gang cells are broken up and the perpetrators accept plea deals to reduce sentences and/or seek immunity when they testify against their former associates.

6. See staff, “Have there been beheadings in Arizona desert?” 2 September 2010. Contains a video sequence on the earlier debate that became politicized during Arizona gubernatorial elections in 2010. It should be noted that the Martin Alejandro Cota Monroy beheading in Chandler, Arizona, which was a Mexican cartel hit, took place in an apartment in October 2010.

Useful Reference(s):

Robert Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #8: Teen Tortured, Dismembered, Beheaded by Trafficking Gang in Bethany, Oklahoma.” Small Wars Journal. 3 January 2012.

Pamela L. Bunker, Lisa J. Campbell, and Robert J. Bunker, “Torture, beheadings, and narcocultos.” Robert J. Bunker, ed., Narcos Over the Border. London: Routledge, 2011: 145-178.

Robert J. Bunker and Pamela L. Bunker, Beheadings and Ritual Murders Bibliography. Quantico, VA: FBI Academy Library. August 2007.

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note # 8

Tue, 01/03/2012 - 4:37pm

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #8:

Teen Tortured, Dismembered, Beheaded by Trafficking Gang in Bethany, Oklahoma

Key Information:

Via IBTimes Staff Reporter, “Carina Saunders: Teen Tortured, Dismembered, Beheaded by Trafficking Gang.” International Business Times, 23 December 2011:

Oklahoma teen Carina Saunders was brutally murdered as a means to frighten another woman into cooperating with a human trafficking ring, police have reported.

The 19-year-old who graduated from Mustang High School just last year was tortured, dismembered and beheaded. Parts of her body were found stuffed in a duffel bag and dumped behind a grocery store on Oct. 13. She was identified by her distinct tattoos.

Jimmy Lee Massey, 33, has been arrested on first-degree murder charges. A 20-year-old woman, whose name has not been disclosed, came forward as a witness to report she had been kidnapped by Massey and forced to watch the brutal murder in Bethany, Oklahoma, reports The Daily Mail.

Massey was already being held in Oklahoma County jail on drug charges. He has admitted to investigators that he kidnapped the 20-year-old woman and forced her to watch as others tortured and killed Saunders. He also provided details about the crime.

Both women reportedly knew Massey separately, but there is no evidence that the two women knew each other.

Police Chief Phil Cole said: "Evidence in our investigation has led us to believe that she had been expected to provide certain things to this trafficking group and that she had not been performing to their satisfaction."

"We believe there were other people there and they're now the focus of our investigation."

Another man, Francisco Gomez, was arrested in connection with the murder. As Gomez was led into the police station in handcuffs last night, he yelled to reporters "I've got nothing to do with no drugs, no murder, no nothing."

"We surrounded a possible address for Mr Gomez and he surrendered peacefully. He was booked on a trafficking charge," authorities said.

Despite the fact that she was known to run with a rough crowd and use drugs like marijuana, methamphetamine and Ecstasy, Saunders was a "random" choice for the killers, according to police.

Cole said, "Our information right now leads us to believe she was a random choice, as sad as that is. She had relationships within these loosely associated people, and I think that she was a victim of opportunity."

Oklahoma County Assistant District Attorney Scott Rowland said a judgment will be made in January…[1].

For news channel 4 (Oklahoma City) videos pertaining to this incident see:,0,6407719.story.

For a detailed 14:50 minute news video of a law enforcement press conference related to this incident see NewsOk,

Who: Carina Saunders, 19, born in Oklahoma City and grew up in Mustang, Oklahoma [2].

What: Torture, beheading and dismemberment.

When: Went missing (per friends) Wednesday, 28 September 2011; Killed, late Sunday, 9 October 2011/early Monday, 10 October 2011 [6]; Body found Thursday, 13 October 2011; Identified via tattoos and dental records, Monday, 17 October 2011.

Where: Found in a duffle bag behind a Homeland grocery store at 7101 NW. 23rd and Rockwell in Bethany, Oklahoma [2][3].

Why: Used as an example to terrify a group of women who were victims of a human trafficking (prostitution) ring and an associated drug trafficking ring [4]. Note— some of the individuals involved were members of both rings.

Tactical Analysis: A 20 year old woman (name withheld by the police to protect her identity) was kidnapped, blindfolded and transported to an unknown location (some type of room) by Jimmy Lee Massey, age 33, late Sunday 9 October/early Monday 10 October 2011. She was then forced to watch the torture killing of Carina Saunders by a small group of individuals. 

Carina Saunders, the victim, was a known user of marijuana, methamphetamine and Ecstasy [1]. She had multiple tattoos. One of which is a ‘Kween Spade’ with a spade in an oval between her breasts [5]. No other upper body tattoos or tattoos on lower legs/ankles are evident from social networking photos. Due to her associations, she came in contact with the network of some of the members of the human trafficking and drug trafficking rings. Per the police, she appeared to be a random target of opportunity in this torture killing. Little mention has been made of the condition of Saunders from the time of her kidnapping to her death, though similar incident patterns would suggest that she was most likely physically and sexually abused.

The incident intent of the criminal gang(s) was for the 20 year old woman to let the other victims (i.e. sex slaves) of the ring know that, if they did not cooperate with gang member orders, this is what would happen to them too. The woman who witnessed this crime instead went to the police and reported the incident. Jimmy Lee Massey (aka “Big County” or “Country”) was subsequently arrested on 4 November 2011 and booked on drug trafficking warrants— he had also been the focus of a large narcotics investigation. Massey was read his Miranda Warnings and Rights, then waived them, and proceeded to discuss his part in the kidnapping of the 20 year old woman, the torture killing of Saunders, and the dismemberment of her body and its disposal. He now faces charges, filed on Tuesday, 20 December 2011, related to kidnapping, assault and battery, and murder [6].  It should be noted that “Massey also identified other persons that were involved and present in the room and involved in the murder.” [6].

Another suspect, Francisco Gomez, age 31, was then taken into custody on 20 December 2011 [7]. Per a law enforcement press conference pertaining to this incident, Gomez is thought to be a US citizen, however, quite a few Mexican nationals have been implicated as also having ties to this incident and/or the drug trafficking ring [8]. This is an ongoing investigation with more suspects and/or persons of interest being sought.

Whether this incident is directly linked to Mexican cartel/gang involvement or inspired by such killings is unknown at this time. Of note is that a NewsOk report has its story on this incident linked to a page entitled “Cartel Connection: Oklahoma’s #1 Threat” with a state highway map and drug cartel-based crimes superimposed over a map of the state of Oklahoma [9].

This torture killing (decapitation) incident is of much concern because it has all the hallmarks of a Mexican cartel killing. If this incident is directly tied to Mexican cartel or gang members, it will neither be the first nor the last such incident, with a small but growing, number of torture killing (decapitation) incidents now having taken place domestically over the last decade. These include the following US incidents (see Table 2.) listed in Pamela L. Bunker, Lisa J. Campbell, and Robert J. Bunker, “Torture, beheadings, and narcocultos” in Narcos Over the Border [10]:

To this listing can be added the more recent Chandler, Arizona beheading incident which took place in October 2010. In that incident, Martin Alejandro Cota Monroy was killed in his apartment by the PEI-Estatales/El Chapo drug cartel in retaliation for stealing a 400 pound load of marijuana [11].

Significance: Beheading; Cartel Tactics; Cross Border Violence; Human Trafficking; Torture Killing


1. See

2. Jon Watje, “Friends remember Mustang High School graduate.” Mustang Times. Monday 24, October 2011,

3. Homeland,

4. Asia One News, “Woman forced to watch murder.” Originally published in The New Paper, Sunday, 25 December 2011,

5. Daily Mail, Original source is which obtained the photo via a social networking site (assumed).

6. See the District Court of Oklahoma document (the probable cause affidavit), filed 20 December 2011, pertaining to Jimmy Lee Massey,

7. Bryan Dean and Robert Medley, “Another arrest made in Bethany killing.” NewsOk, 21 December 2011,

8. see NewsOk,

9. “Cartel Connection: Oklahoma’s #1 Threat.” NewsOk. See

10. Pamela L. Bunker, Lisa J. Campbell, and Robert J. Bunker, “Torture, beheadings, and narcocultos.” Robert J. Bunker, ed., Narcos Over the Border. London: Routledge, 2011: 159.

11. Reuters, “Police link Arizona beheading to Mexican drug cartel.” Thursday 3 March 2011,



Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 11

Wed, 12/28/2011 - 4:01pm

Of extreme consternation in this strategic note is that not only has SEDENA recently highlighted its 18 to 1 soldier-to-criminal exchange rates and proclaimed that it is basically unbeatable on the battlefield (akin to what the US did in Vietnam) but that, in the context of the current war in Mexico, the Mexican army is presently irrelevant to the actual fighting (killing) taking place since a total of 19 of 20 (93-95% of) gang and cartel foot soldier deaths can be accounted for by engagements with opposing gang and cartel commando units and/or personnel.

Via: “Hannah Stone, “18 ‘Criminals’ Die for Each Soldier: Mexico.” InSight Crime. Tuesday, 20 December 2011:

Mexico’s Defense Department said that for every soldier who died in clashes with organized criminal groups in the last five years, 18 alleged criminals were killed.

The Defense Department (Sedena) released figures showing that 2,268 “aggressors” had been killed in confrontations with the armed forces since President Felipe Calderon came to power in 2006, reports Proceso.

The authorities define “confrontations” as clashes between the authorities and suspected criminals, or between criminals, while “aggressions” are when the armed forces are attacked, but do not respond.

There have been 1,948 of these “confrontations and aggressions,” involving the army in the last five years, according to Sedena, killing 126 soldiers.

InSight Crime has reported on the dramatic rise in deaths in the confrontations and aggressions over the past few years, which has raised concerns that this could be due to a rise in extrajudicial killings by the army. As one former Mexican intelligence official told InSight Crime, many in the security forces are frustrated by the skyrocketing death toll and inept Mexican justice system, leading some to take the expedient option.

In total, including those confrontations which did not involve the army— either between criminal groups, or criminals and other branches of the security forces— there were 2,099 deaths in clashes last year, according to the government [1].


The recent release of Mexico’s Defense Department (SEDENA) information on soldier-criminal exchange rates on the surface is welcome news. For every 18 gang and cartel foot soldiers killed, 1 army soldier is killed in the process. Hence, 2,268 narcos have been killed to 126 soldiers. Deeper analysis of this information, however, results in quite a few unanswered questions and raises some significant issues of concern, especially when the information is weighed within the broader context of the overall narco related killings in Mexico over the last 4 to 5 years.

These unanswered questions and issues of concern are as follows:

• 1,948 incidents of what are termed  “confrontations and aggressions” have taken place between the Mexican army and the gang and cartel foot soldiers over the last five years. Confrontations are incidents in which the Mexican army, or other gang and/or cartel forces, engage opposing gang and cartel foot soldiers. Aggressions are when the Mexican army is attacked—like in a hand grenade or drive-by attack— but does not respond with counter-weapons fires. If the number of narcos killed (2,268) is divided by the number of these incidents (1,948), then a kill factor of 1.16 is achieved per engagement. This suggests that such incidents are, on average, very minor patrol and check point type encounters, although a number of large scale incidents could be balanced out by many 0 kill factor incidents. Without access to the underlying SEDENA dataset, only speculative insights may be made.

• Within the context of the greater dataset of battlefield deaths taking place in Mexico, the overall significance of 2,268 gang and cartel foot soldier deaths also comes into question. See the following statistics concerning organized criminal killings via

Viridiana Ríos and David A. Shirk, Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2010. San Diego, CA: Trans-Border Institute, Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, University of San Diego, February 2011: 18:

Mexican army involvement in 2,268 potential narco deaths represents less than 6.5% of the overall deaths— probably at about the 5% range but this may be generous. Remember that the 2,268 deaths includes gang and/or cartel on gang and/or cartel confrontations over a 5 year period while the aggregate organized crime killings (via Rios and Shirk) only covers a 4 year period.

Thus, the 18 to 1 soldier-to-criminal exchange rate only accounts for 1 of 20 (5% of) gang and cartel foot soldier deaths. A total of 19 of 20 (93-95% of) gang and cartel foot soldier deaths can be accounted for by engagements with opposing gang and cartel commando units and/or personnel. Some consideration to Mexican law enforcement killings of gang and cartel foot soldiers has been factored into these estimates [2].

If these figures are correct, it would suggest that Mexican army operations against the criminal insurgencies taking place in Mexico may, at least by the narco deaths criteria, be considered ineffectual. Also, from the perspective of peace enforcement and/or keeping operations, the Mexican army has failed because ongoing gang and/or cartel on gang and/or cartel engagements are taking place in Mexico and 95% of the time, when actual killings result, the Mexican army is nowhere to be seen. This would suggest that, after 5 years of Mexican army operations, this institution of the Mexican state can now be viewed as potentially irrelevant to the outcome of the power struggles between the competing gang and cartel groups.

If this were not enough, the Trans-Border Institute (TBI) table shows that 55% of the narco deaths are in some way linked to Sinaloa cartel activities. While Los Zetas— which have about 9% of the killings associated with them— appear to dominate news reports, it is the Sinaloa cartel which appears to be the major belligerent in the ground wars in Mexico.

• Not only is Mexican army effectiveness coming into question here but, in one sense, its deployment may be considered as providing the cartels with additional recruits. This perception can be better understood by viewing desertion data for Mexico.

Via David A. Kuhn and Robert J. Bunker, “Just where do Mexican cartel weapons come from?” Small Wars & Insurgencies. 22:5 December 2011, 819-820:

• In the eight years since the Zetas were organized, more than 120,000 Mexican soldiers have deserted, according to the government’s records. Yet the country’s military officials have made little effort to track their whereabouts, security experts said, creating a potential pool of military trained killers for the drug-trafficking gangs wreaking havoc in the country [June 2007].(42)

• Of the 4,890 soldiers assigned to the federal police force to help combat traffickers during the 2000-06 administration of President Vicente Fox, all but 10 deserted, said Gomez, citing Defense Secretariat figures [June 2007].(43)

• General Ángeles Dahuajare announced that more than 17,000 soldiers had deserted in 2008 [March 2009].(44)

• Some 1,680 Mexican army special forces soldiers have deserted in the past decade, the Milenio newspaper reported, citing Defense Secretariat figures [March 2011].(45)

• Some 50,000 soldiers have been providing security and fighting drug traffickers across Mexico since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon militarized the conflict with the country’s cartels ... The deserters include snipers, paratroopers, survival experts, intelligence analysts and rapid reaction specialists, the newspaper said [March 2011].(46)

• Some 50,000 soldiers have been providing security and fighting drug traffickers across Mexico since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon militarized the conflict with the country’s cartels ... The deserters include snipers, paratroopers, survival experts, intelligence analysts and rapid reaction specialists, the newspaper said [March 2011].(46)

On balance, far more military personnel have defected to the cartels over the years than have been killed by the Mexican army. This would result in some tens-of-thousands of ex-soldiers going over to the cartels vis-à-vis the 2,268 potential narco deaths the SEDENA data highlights. 2,180 gang and cartel members have, however, been arrested by the Mexican army over the last 5 years [3]. This unfortunately, does not significantly mitigate the effects of the military deserters going over to the cartels. Further, conviction rates in Mexico in the past were at about 2% and, additionally, man-for-man a cartel would gladly see the loss of an unskilled teenage lookout in exchange for a military trained young adult joining their organization. 

• Within the context of this conflict, the Vietnam war analogy— Mexico’s Vietnam War?— was brought into the title of this strategic note for a couple of reasons. The first is for US readers to better understand the magnitude of the casualties that have taken place in Mexico in recent years. The Vietnam war took place for the US from 1959 through 1973 (about 15 years) and witnessed 58,000 US deaths. These deaths took place in Vietnam and were primarily of military personnel (combatants). The war in Mexico (i.e. the aggregate of the various criminal insurgencies taking place) has been officially going on since December 2006 (5 years now), though Ion Grillo, author of El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency, would suggest it began as early as the Fall of 2004 with the initial push of the Sinaloa cartel into a Gulf cartel held plaza [4].

Based on the December 2006 starting date, the total number of deaths is presently estimated at about 50,000 with the last official release of information in January 2011 citing 34,612 deaths. The 50,000 deaths took place in Mexico (not “over there” like in Vietnam) and includes non-combatants (including Mexican women and children). Further, these deaths took place in about a third of the time period of the US fatalities in Vietnam and in a country with about two-thirds the population size during the time period in which the fatalities took place. While US citizens ate their dinners watching Vietnam war coverage, many of the citizens in Mexico experience this type of carnage on a routine basis by seeing the bodies hanging on the bridges and on the streets or having to hunker down on the floor while firefights take place outside their homes.

The 50,000 deaths in Mexico are thus far more significant, for the reasons explained, than the 58,000 US deaths in Vietnam [5]. We know what the Vietnam war did to the US via the anti-war protests and the turning of many of the institutions of America upon itself. In many ways, the Mexican citizenry has been far more restrained with regard to protests than a US citizenry that experienced its war under far less threatening circumstances although, in the present Mexican scenario, the simple solution of disengaging from the war by bringing the troops home from overseas does not exist. The war is taking place domestically which tends to place the Mexican government and its citizens in the position of the South Vietnamese rather than in the position of the Americans.

The second reason the Vietnam analogy has been drawn upon is to highlight the type of conflict taking place and its relationship to battlefield deaths. In this instance, however, Vietnam and Mexico may have fewer similarities and more differences. Vietnam was a Maoist inspired insurgency rooted in North Vietnamese nationalism and communist ideology. It represented a political insurgency plan and simple and incorporated elements of terrorism and later conventional ground operations into the conflict. The US, by all accounts, won on the battlefield with its soldier to Vietcong and NVA (North Vietnamese Army) exchange rates. Even the Tet Offensive in January 1968 was a military disaster for the North Vietnamese though, as we know, that conflict (and that offensive) had nothing to do with physical victory on the battlefield or exchange rates. Col. Harry Summers encounter with a NVA Colonel after the war made this succinctly clear:

In July 1974 he returned to Vietnam as chief of the Negotiations Division of the Four Party Joint Military Team (FPJMT). The main task of the U.S. delegation was to resolve the status of those Americans still listed as missing. During one of his liaison trips to Hanoi, Harry had his now-famous exchange with his North Vietnamese counterpart. When Harry told him, “You know, you never beat us on the battlefield,” Colonel Tu responded, “That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.” [6].

Mexico, many of us at SWJ El Centro would argue, is facing multiple criminal insurgencies. We are also seeing glimpses of spiritual insurgencies breaking out, derived from narcocultura and narcosaint worship. While the more dominant criminal insurgencies may not have begun with a political component, they have since defacto broadened to include increasingly politicized gangs and cartels. These threat groups, once in a possession of a town, city or region, gain political power as a compliment to their economic and military (criminal gunmen) prowess.

Of extreme consternation in this strategic note is that not only has SEDENA recently highlighted its 18 to 1 soldier-to-criminal exchange rates and proclaimed that it is basically unbeatable on the battlefield [7] (akin to what the US did in Vietnam) but that, in the context of the current war in Mexico, the Mexican army is presently irrelevant to the actual fighting (killing) taking place since a total of 19 of 20 (93-95% of) gang and cartel foot soldier deaths can be accounted for by engagements with opposing gang and cartel commando units and/or personnel.

As we know, the US military was actively engaged in the Vietnam war as a full battlefield participant and did not understand the type of war that was being fought. Hopefully, the Mexican army engaging in its own counter-insurgency operations, has (or will) learn something from the US failure in Vietnam. Soldier-to-criminal exchange rates (i.e. body counts) are not what this conflict is about and the release of information pertaining to those rates looks especially bad when it is provided by a military force which is not a real battlefield participant (as defined by the percentage of criminal combatant deaths) [8].

End Note(s):

1. See Original Spanish article at “Presume Sedena superioridad; muere un soldado por cada 18 criminales.” Proceso. 19 de diciembre de 2011,

2. Gang and cartel foot soldier deaths at the hands of Mexican law enforcement have been factored into these estimates. Community level law enforcement in much of Mexico is outclassed by cartel commandos/personnel and a significant percentage of it is corrupted (which would once again result in gang and cartel killings attributed to opposing gang and cartel forces). The working assumption is that within the 5% of killings attributed to the Mexican military, Mexican law enforcement (primarily Federal) would account for 1-2% of the killings. Even if we assume total Mexican military and federal police killings (of gang and cartel foot soldiers) were 7% of the total the 19 of 20 (adjusted 93% of/ rounded) gang and cartel foot soldier deaths attributed to opposing gang and cartel would still be a viable estimate.

3. The original Spanish source is as follows “Además de los caídos, se ha detenido a dos mil 180 delincuentes lo que, según la Sedena, significa que se ha dejado fuera de circulación a cuatro mil 448 probables responsables de un delito, entre muertos y capturados.” See “Presume Sedena superioridad; muere un soldado por cada 18 criminales.” Proceso. 19 de diciembre de 2011,

4. Ion Grillo, El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2011: 10.

5. Criticisms may be made that the “innocent” US soldier draftees sent to Vietnam did not deserve to die and therefore those deaths were more significant to their home population vis-à-vis the Mexican gang and cartel members whom represent the majority of those killed in Mexico. A counterargument may be made that the criminals killed in Mexico typically belong to large families and that those deaths are taking place locally which not only traumatizes those families but other members of the Mexican citizenry which are being subjected to the gang and cartel violence taking place around them.

6. David T. Zabecki, “Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr., was a soldier, scholar, military analyst, writer, editor and friend.” The Clausewitz Homepage. n.d.,

7. The original Spanish statement attributed to General Ricardo Trevilla is “El vocero de la Sedena, general Ricardo Trevilla, presumió la “superioridad” del Ejército en la lucha contra el crimen organizado. Afirmó que las estadísticas reflejan que el adiestramiento y no las armas, es lo que importa. En ese rubro no existe punto de comparación entre militares y delincuentes, dijo.” See “Presume Sedena superioridad; muere un soldado por cada 18 criminales.” Proceso. 19 de diciembre de 2011,

8. Of additional interest is the Insight Crime and Human Rights Watch (HRW) concerns over the perceived rise in extrajudicial killings by the Mexican army. While such killings under the auspices of international law are indeed designated as ‘war crimes’ the Mexican army, at best, would account for 5% (or less) of the extrajudicial total if a linear projection of their involvement in criminal combatant fatalities is taken. Analysts, and humanitarian focused non-governmental organizations (NGOs) especially, should consider that the probable 95% (or more) of the extrajudicial killings taking place in Mexico at the hands of the gangs and cartel are not in anyway associated with the Mexican army. This perception is not being offered as a justification for extrajudicial killings conducted by the Mexican army, but rather to convey to HRW and others that they are focusing on what appears to be the lesser offender.

Mexican Cartel Operational Note No. 1

Sat, 12/17/2011 - 1:56pm

Mexican Cartel Operational Note No. 1:

Mexican Military Operations Against Los Zetas Communications Networks

Via CNN Mexico, “La Marina desarticula la comunicación de ‘Los Zetas’ en Veracruz.” Jueves, 08 de septiembre de 2011 a las 10:32,, view the 2:31 video of the initial seizure of Zetas communications equipment.

Via the Institute for the Study of Violent Groups, Naval Post Graduate School, “Zetas’ Communications Systems.” n.d.:

The Los Zetas operate a vast telecommunications network involving two-way radios, encrypted, secure radio networks, computers and burner cell phones. The original Zetas experience in the military lead to a number of innovative techniques in the Zetas operations including successfully using existing networks securely and building their own radio systems.

During a 26 day operation the Mexican Navy seized various communications devices from throughout the state of Veracruz. The seizure included mobile radio transmitters and high frequency repeaters, computers, cables and wiring, two-way radios, batteries and power supplies / amplifiers, solar power cells, 13 large antennae, 7 radio amplifiers, encryption devices and 7 trailer trucks carrying other supplies such as clothing and groceries.[1][2][3][4] There were also 80 persons arrested during the operation, including six police officers. The system was reportedly capable of handling the communications in Veracruz and partially into neighboring Tabasco state.[1] Images of the items can be seen in the gallery below.

One report indicated the network was highly sophisticated and stated: "The communications network was composed of several communication repeaters of high frequency band, known by its acronym UHF, which had independent power sources, frequency amplifiers, antennas known as "pool cues”, which are slender and go up to 20 feet above the ground, and antennas that were concealed in trees."[5]

There were a total of twelve reported municipalities in which the seizures took place. The map below outlines the locations and demonstrates how the network traveled through the state north to south.[1][2][3][4][5]

The municipalities are:

    * Tepetzintla

    * Panuco

    * Veracruz

    * Xalapa

    * Orizaba

    * Cordoba

    * Naranjos Amatlan  

    * Tantoyuca

    * Poza Rica de Hidalgo

    * Perote

    * Coatzacoalcos

    * Tuxpan

See the map and photo gallery at this site,'_Communications_Systems.

Via Hispanically Speaking News, “Zetas’s High Tech Narco-Communications Central Seized (VIDEO).” 21 November 2011:

Communication equipment valued at $350,000 was seized by Mexican army elements in Torreón who raided a home known by Zeta narcos as “The Central.”

The $350,000 worth of equipment, was used by the Zetas for the control and coordination of their criminal cells as well as to monitor security forces to evade capture.

Army elements seized a central processing unit as well as 2 high capacity hard drives, long-range broadband digital radio equipment, networked laptops, 63 digital radios, 59 analog radio units with multiple accessories and a digital ICOM radio to communicate with aircrafts from the ground and 24 cell phones.  Mexican authorities also found several doses of cocaine [1].

Via Associated Press, “Mexican Army Dismantles Gang’s Antennas, Radios.” Thursday 1 December 2011:

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican army troops dismantled a telecommunications system set up by organized crime in four northern states, authorities said Thursday.

The Defense Department said soldiers confiscated 167 antennas and 166 power supplies that gang members used to communicate among themselves and to monitor military movements.

The operation also netted more than 1,400 radios and 2,600 cellphones in the border states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon and Coahuila and in the state of San Luis Potosi, a statement said.

The army hasn’t said which cartel was affected.

During the summer, Mexico's navy dismantled a communication system used by the Zetas cartel in the Gulf state of Veracruz. The Zetas have a strong presence in all four of the states involved in the army's operation….[2].

Via Ronan Graham, “Mexico Seizes 'Zetas' Communications System.” In Sight. Friday 2 December 2011:

Mexican army troops have dismantled a sophisticated communications network, believed to have been operated by the Zetas drug gang to conduct internal communications and monitor the movements of the security forces.

A statement from the Defense Department (SEDENA) said that military personnel dismantled the network in the northern border states of Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, San Luis Potosi and Tamaulipas following a 12-month operation.

Although the statement did not give the name of the drug cartel operating the network, the Zetas have extensive operations in these areas.

The military confiscated more than 1,400 radios, 2,600 cell phones and computer equipment during the operation, as well as power supplies including solar panels, according the Defense Department.

The equipment was found in rural, sparsely populated areas of the four states. According a military source, the antennas were painted green to blend in with the surroundings…[3].

An extensive collection of photos of this equipment can be found at “Desmantelan red de comunicación de Los Zetas.” El Miércoles 14 de diciembre de 2011,

External Analysis:

Concerning the initial operations against Los Zetas communication system, per the STRATFOR analysis “Zetas Communications Network Disrupted in Veracruz,” Mexico Security Memo: Zetas Communications Network Dismantled. 13 September 2011:

The Mexican navy on Sept. 8 dismantled a communications network used by Los Zetas throughout Veracruz state. Among the equipment seized were mobile radio transmitters, computers, radio scanners, encryption devices, solar power cells and as many as seven trailers that served as base stations, according to media reports. A spokesman for the Mexican navy said some 80 individuals have been arrested over the past month in connection with the operation, itself the result of months of work by naval intelligence officers.

Los Zetas have been known to utilize more sophisticated communications networks than other cartels, due in large part to the organization’s origins in military special operations. The Zetas needed to augment sparse communications in some areas they control, and the Veracruz network likely was for the purpose of “off the grid” communications. Since cellphones are relatively easy for authorities to monitor, Los Zetas have sought to diversify their telecommunications capabilities, a fact of which Mexican authorities are aware.

It is possible that the seizure of this communications equipment means the navy is preparing to launch operations to push the Zetas out of the Veracruz port region. Indeed, a navy spokesman said the immediate result of the operation was the disruption of the Zetas’ “chain of command and tactical coordination.” If the navy is about to engage the Zetas in Veracruz, dismantling the Zetas’ communications network would be one of the first moves it would make….[4].

Concerning the Nextel phones, the networks themselves, and issues of OPSEC (operational security) and encryption, the initial outside analysis conducted by Tim Wilson, “The Zetas Take to the Air,” In Sight. Friday 9 December 2011, states:

…Notable in the most recent seizure were [1]354 Nextel radio phones— a higher radio take than in previous busts. The seized Nextel radios work on Nextel’s Conexion Directa network, a digital two-way radio “push-to-talk” cellular service that allows for free private calling with selected users. This service is difficult to hack, yet functions much like a police or taxi dispatcher. Up to 100 users can be connected free of charge, with capabilities extending even to cross-border calling. Anything less secure would put the group in an odd situation, i.e., worried about getting hacked itself.

However, it’s also clear from the seizures that the Zetas may not have the firmest grasp of the technology just yet.

Given the transmitter equipment being seized by the Mexican military, for example, it is obvious that the Zetas cartel has also been buying commercial-grade telecommunications gear and establishing their own open-band transmission system with basic encryption— completely independent of Nextel’s licensed spectrum.

Even with software-based security protocols bolted on to the system, it is likely that the Zetas are exposing themselves to “man-in-the-middle” eavesdropping by Mexican authorities. From a purely technological perspective, this would be difficult to do on the Nextel system, as cellular networks—and certainly Motorola’s iDEN technology, which Nextel uses— have rigorous security features, but it would be considerably easier in the unlicensed “white space” used for basic radio.

That said, the way around wireless encryption isn’t to hack it— that’s just too hard— but to know it, usually through what is called “social engineering,” which is essentially having access to human information. In the case of wireless technology, this means knowing the standard practices of technicians and thus creating the necessary safeguards to thwart break-ins.

Think of it like the encrypted Wi-Fi networks, which have solid technology but can still be hacked— if you have the right information. According to security experts contacted by InSight Crime, this is a common problem for all countries in Latin America, because usually it is the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who are responsible for configuring the routers and access points of their users, and they often repeat practices. In other words: they manage from predefined configurations, including passwords, allowing criminals to hack routers of a given type, potentially compromising others using the same ISP.

Now apply this to cellular networks. Given that Mexican authorities might have access to Nextel’s system, or simply know how to hack it based on an understanding of industry protocol, we should expect that the Zetas’ next move will be to set up a self-encrypted, autonomous communications network, even though the technology itself might be less robust. With that, they will most likely reach their target of a fully-functioning, independent comms network, if they haven’t already [5].


Veracruz State, September 2011

The communications hardware and supporting materiel seized by the Mexican navy (as identified in the news reports) is as follows:

  • Mobile Radio Transmitters
  • High Frequency Repeaters/UHF
  • Computers
  • Cables/Wiring
  • Two-Way Radios
  • Cell Phones (Burner)
  • Batteries/Power Supplies/Solar Cells
  • Encryption Devices
  • Radio Scanners
  • 13 Large Antennae (some Pool Cue to 20ft/Tree Concealment)
  • 7 Radio Amplifiers
  • 7 Trailer Trucks (Base Stations with Food/Clothing)
  • 80 Personnel (Including 6 Police Officers)

The operation against Los Zetas communications network targeted their C2 (command and control) and counter-intelligence (military communications scanning) capabilities for mostly northern and central municipalities in the state of Veracruz and for a section of the state of Tabasco (See the Institute for the Study of Violent Groups map). As mentioned in the STATFOR analysis this could signal a prelude to Mexican military operations against Los Zetas in the Veracruz port region. This was supported by the Mexican navy spokesman concerning the intended disruption of Los Zetas ‘chain of command and tactical coordination.’ Though geographically the seizures appear to be meant to isolate Los Zetas territories in northeastern Mexico in the states below the US border.

Of note is that this is a mobile communications system based on Semi-Trailer Trucks (like Peterbilts) mated with very large antennas to create a network grid in underdeveloped/rural areas. No evidence of sizeable weapons seizures were evident in the Mexican news video or photographs reviewed. This suggests that the base stations were relatively ‘soft assets’ and relied upon their mobility and remoteness as a form of defense. Still, weapons and body armor for some of the Los Zetas personnel serving as a small security force would be expected.

Torreón (in Coahuila State), November 2011

The communications hardware and supporting materiel seized by the Mexican army (as identified in the news reports) is as follows:

  • 1 Computer (Central Processing Unit)
  • 2 High Capacity Hard Drives
  • Laptops (Networked)
  • Long Range Broad Band Digital Radio Equipment
  • 1 Digital ICOM Radio (for Ground to Air Communication)
  • Scanners [Not Identified/Required for Monitoring Ability]
  • Antenna(s) [Not Identified/Required]
  • Cables/Wiring [Not Identified/Required]
  • Batteries/Power Supplies [Not Identified/Required]
  • 63 Digital Radios
  • 59 Analog Radio Units (with Accessories)
  • 24 Cell Phones

It was estimated in the reports that the value of this equipment is $350,000. The equipment was found at a fixed site— a residence known as ‘The Central’— which provided C2 (command and control) and counter-intelligence (military communications scanning) capabilities for Los Zetas in the urban area of Torreón. Whether this site was raided prior to the December seizures/or was simply an early phase in the seizures in Coahuila state is unknown. No evidence of sizeable weapons seizures were reported in English language reports—though, as a fixed C2 asset, hardening of the residence and a weapons caches inside of it should be considered a standard operating procedure. Four Los Zetas personnel arrests were mentioned at this fixed site [6].

Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, San Luis Potosi, and Tamaulipas States, December 2011

Per the SEDENA (Mexican Ministry of Defense) statement, the following hardware was seized in this operation:

Habiendo detectado, desmantelado y asegurado un total de:

    * 167 ANTENAS. [Antennas]

    * 155 REPETIDORAS. [Repeaters; Receivers/Transmitters]

    * 166 FUENTES DE PODER. [Power Supplies; Including Solar Panels]

    * 1,446 RADIOS. [Radios]

    * 1,306 CELULARES. [Cell Phones]

    * 1,354 NEXTELES. [Nextel Phones]

    * 71 EQUIPOS DE CÓMPUTO. [Computer Equipment] [7].

The sheer volume of equipment seized suggests a huge multi-state grid of fixed antennas and repeaters had been established by Los Zetas for their regional C2 (command and control) requirements. This was a rural based system meant to be hard to detect (camouflaged) and self-contained, relying upon solar panel cells to cut down on battery/power maintenance requirements. Military communications monitoring capabilities were also mentioned in the news reports but are not evident in the equipment seizure manifest. Possibly a forensics review of the seizure pictures (not conducted in this note) would allow for the identification of scanner systems among the generic computer equipment listed. Since the equipment seizure in the state of Veracruz identified such scanners, the capability will undoubtedly exist—though it would be found in fixed and mobile C2 Los Zetas facilities.

Operational Conclusions

Very little has been published on Los Zetas operations and intelligence ‘line and block’ organizational charts. The best work on this subject, now dated, has been conducted by Lisa Campbell and is based on the earlier Gulf and Los Zetas cartel alliance. Still, that work contains an intelligence organizational chart that identifies ‘Dirreccion’— approximately 20 communication experts providing C2 support and counter-intelligence capabilities via police / military communications monitoring (assumed COMINT; electronic intelligence (ELINT) not known). See Fig. 2 from Campbell’s work [8]:

Reprinted from Lisa J. Campbell, “Los Zetas: operational assessment.” Robert J. Bunker, ed., Narcos Over the Border. London: Routledge 2011: 59.

The Los Zetas / Gulf cartel communications equipment identified as of early 2010 was as follows:

  • Radio Transmitters
  • Walkie-Talkies
  • Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP)
  • Broadband Satellite Instant Messaging
  • Text Messaging
  • Encrypted Messaging
  • Two-Way Radios
  • Scanner Devices
  • Modern Wiretapping Equipment
  • High-Frequency Radios with Encryption and Rolling Codes [9]

How the recently seized Los Zetas communications equipment is ultimately related to their current operational and intelligence structures is unknown— such information represents classified SEDENA intelligence being utilized in an active counter-criminal insurgency setting. This is evident because, without question, the equipment seizures taking place over the last 4 months signify a component of a coordinated multi-state offensive against Los Zetas by the Mexican Federal government. This offensive is likely benefiting from US intelligence capabilities providing targeting support against the OPFOR (opposing force)— via general SIGINT (signals intelligence) and remote sensing assets (drone/satellite). This offensive is evident in at least five Mexican states (Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, Veracruz and possibly Tabasco).

A report had been filed by Chris Covert in October 2011 concerning the Laguna Segura counternarcotics operation which may represent a component of the Mexican government operations against the Los Zetas communications networks. Additionally, he noted “Last spring the national legislature, the Chamber of Deputies funded the addition of 18 new rifle battalions, most of which would be deployed in northern Mexican states” [10]. Covert linked it back to “A comprehensive security operation based on a framework used successfully in two Mexican southern states” [11]. Of note is how the counter-communications networks offensive against Los Zetas appears integrated into the broader counter-criminal insurgency strategy being conducted. That overarching strategy focuses on northeastern Mexico, and since early-2010, has been known as Operation Northeast Coordinated (Operación Coordinada Noreste). It represents a full scale Mexican federal governmental effort to take back territories controlled by both Los Zetas and the Gulf cartels [12]. One component of that strategy, which will eventually see the deployment of three of the new infantry (rifle) battalions, was recently highlighted in Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 10: Fortified Town (Burgward) Strategy Implemented in Tamaulipas [13].


1. See The video link in the article may not function properly on some computer operating systems.

2. Posted at numerous news websites. See

3. See One photo of antennas seized at this link. Hotlinks to primary Mexican SEDENA and other documents in this article. The Borderland Beat site mirrors the In Sight article with the addition of additional pictures from the seizure. See

4. See This analysis contains a hardware picture labeled “Antena Orizaba 1”.

5. Via Google’s cache of

6. From Mexican governmental report. “Los Zetas are slowly being dismantled: in Luguna Seura!” 19 November 2011,

7. SEDENA, “Personal militar desarticula redes de radiocomunicación clandestinas.” Monterrey, N.L., a 1 de diciembre de 2011, The hardware seized is broken down by military zones.

8. Lisa J. Campbell, “Los Zetas: operational assessment.” Robert J. Bunker, ed., Narcos Over the Border. London: Routledge 2011: 59.

9. Ibid, 65. The sophisticated military style radios with the rolling encryption do not appear evident in the recent seizures of Los Zetas communications equipment.

10. Chris Covert, “Segura Laguna security operation begins.” 24 October 2011, Derived from the following Spanish article “Llegan militares para plan Laguna Segura.” El Universal. Sábado 22 de octubre de 2011,

11. Ibid.

12. Gary J. Hale, Mexico’s Government Begins to Retake Northeastern Mexico. Rice University: James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. 9 December 2011: 3. Concerning these communications networks this note is of interest: “The dismantled [Veracruz] network is thought to be part of a larger communications infrastructure erected by the Gulf cartel (when the Zetas were subordinate to the Gulf cartel) and that enabled realtime, handheld DTO communications from roughly Cuidad Acuña, Coahuila (across from Del Rio, Texas) in the northwest, to the Yucatan Peninsula to the east. This communications network, which is now largely disabled, previously allowed for continuous DTO command-and-control management of cross-border cartel operations.” p. 10.  Originally referenced to United States vs. Jose Luis del Toro Estrada aka “Tecnico,” United States District Clerk, Southern District of Texas, Case No. H-08CR616, plea agreement March 18, 2009.


Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 10

Tue, 12/13/2011 - 2:36pm

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 10:

Fortified Town (Burgward) Strategy Implemented in Tamaulipas

Via “Mexico Inaugurates Military Barracks in Violence-Plagued Town.” Borderland Beat. Saturday 10 December 2011:

Mexican President Felipe Calderon formally inaugurated a military barracks in the violence-racked northeastern town of Ciudad Mier, where he reiterated that the deployment of army soldiers to battle drug-trafficking gangs is a necessary but temporary measure.

He said the new army base will allow time for authorities to recruit and form their own police forces in that town and other areas of Tamaulipas state, saying that the weakness, vulnerability and, in some cases, complicity, of law enforcement had put people “at the mercy of criminals.”

Calderon said Ciudad Mier, a colonial community in Tamaulipas state near the U.S.-Mexico border that was once known as the “Magic Town,” should be a tourist destination but instead was abandoned by its citizens last year because of the presence of criminal gangs.

In late 2010, nearly all of the town’s 6,300 inhabitants fled to neighboring municipalities and across the border into the United States due to fear of drug-related violence.

Many of them had relocated to a shelter in the nearby city of Ciudad Miguel Aleman.

Ciudad Mier, which is located in the “Frontera Chica” region of Tamaulipas, and many other towns in northeastern Mexico found themselves caught up in the war sparked by the March 2010 rupture of the alliance between the Gulf drug cartel and Los Zetas, the cartel’s former armed wing.

The shootouts between gunmen working for the rival cartels occurred for about six months and sometimes lasted as long as eight hours, leaving the streets covered with bullet casings.

In a bid to boost security, the Defense Secretariat ordered the construction of a “mobile” military barracks to house soldiers deployed to Ciudad Mier, a move Calderon said prompted the return of two thirds of the people who had fled the town.

“Ciudad Mier had started to become a community of empty squares, abandoned houses, of shuttered schools and businesses, of bullet-ridden walls. Faced with that situation, the government couldn’t remain with its arms crossed,” Calderon said.

The presence of the army soldiers, who arrived in the second half of 2011, “is gradually helping the people of Ciudad Mier and all of Tamaulipas regain the tranquility that had been snatched away from them by the criminals,” Calderon said.

He said homicides fell by more than 40 percent between the first and second halves of 2011, although he also acknowledged that “the road is long” and much work still remains.

The mobile military barracks, which the president formally inaugurated on Thursday, are capable of housing 600 troops.

The installations are the first of their type in the country, the Defense Secretariat said, noting that the materials used allow them to be taken down easily and moved to other areas as necessary.

The barracks, which occupy an area of 40 hectares (100 acres), respond to the need for mobile units capable of reacting to the contingencies that may arise in Tamaulipas state….

Source: EFE [1].

Analysis: This is a key new (and underappreciated) strategic component in the Mexican government’s response to the criminal insurgencies taking place in that country. The Mexican federal government is implementing a prototype program to reestablish its authority in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico overrun by the cartels and gangs. Specifically, it is garrisoning an Army unit in a 100 acre modular base in close proximity to the abandoned town of Ciudad Mier. Ciudad Mier had been abandoned in late 2010, with most of its 6,300 residents becoming internally displaced persons (IDPs), due to the conflict raging between the Zetas and Gulf cartels. The establishment of the Army garrison (battalion size/600 soldiers) resulted in about two-thirds of the residents of Ciudad Mier returning back to the town.

The intent of the fortified town prototype in Ciudad Mier is to create an island of Federal authority and stability that can then be expanded to retake the surrounding lands that have been lost (what the Mexican government terms “areas of impunity”). This will be undertaken by the creation of new vetted (and uncorrupted) police forces that will then be established in nearby communities. It is assumed that the Ciudad Mier garrison will patrol the countryside in its area of responsibility (AOR) and function as a rapid deployment force that can then come to the aid of these new police forces when they are threatened by larger cartel commando units. No mention has been made of civilian defense forces (militias) being formed in support of the military garrison and police units— though such potentials exist and the creation of those units would have many benefits.

The fortified town strategy is being gradually expanded by the Calderon administration in selected regions of Mexico that have been lost to de facto cartel and gang political authority:

A second army base is being built in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, where 72 migrants, the majority of them from Central America, were massacred by Zetas in August 2010, and a third base is under construction in Ciudad Mante, another strife-torn part of the state [2].

The intent is to build supporting towns to Ciudad Mier that could be utilized to create their own zones of Federal control, mutually support each other, and, as a system of internal defenses, regain control of regions of Tamaulipas via their own battalion sized Army garrisons and subordinated police forces (See Fig. 1).

Of interest is how the fortified town strategy overlaps with Mexico’s growing internally displaced persons (IDPs) issue. This may become a primary Federal strategy to help mitigate it [3].  Also the establishment of such towns ties into very recent Feral cities analysis which discusses 4th (Purple) and 5th (Black) level cities (fully feral/dead cities and criminalized cities, respectively). This promotes the perspective that dead cities can be recolonized by the state and come back as 1st (Green) or 2nd (Yellow) level cites under its authority [4]. Finally, it is expected that the fortified town strategy will eventually be utilized in tandem by the Mexican federal government with some sort of retaking of the slums strategy in the major cities. Such a strategy was recently articulated by Vanda Felbab-Brown, though not specifically focused upon the criminal insurgencies taking place in Mexico [5].

Grand Strategic Analysis: In essence, fortified towns (garrison towns) are being established by means of recolonizing (and stabilizing existing populations) in a region of Mexico lost to the de facto rule of the criminal insurgents. This is pretty much an unheard of development with regard to mature, stable, and modern states. Rather, it is characteristic of centralized states expanding into frontier areas (those expanding territorially) and such states losing control over expanses of their lands (those being overrun by raiders and barbarians). This is very much reminiscent of Roman, and later Holy Roman, Empire frontier towns (burgwards in Europe during the late imperial and post-Western empire eras. The raiders of those eras, however, were early on based on the Germanic tribes and Huns (Magyars) as opposed to today’s cartel (2nd/3rd phase) and gang (3GEN) groupings [6]. Modern parallels to US firebases in Vietnam may be made but the context and type of insurgency (criminal vs Maoist-inspired) make such contentions highly problematic. The historical parallels to the criminal-soldier threats of the late Roman Empire and Dark Ages appear even more viable in light of the multitude of atrocities committed (torture, mutilations, and beheadings), although in this instance with a post-modern contextual overlay.


Figure 1. Federal Mexican Burward Strategy is not to geographic scale. It is a notional figure of how this new strategy may be conceptualized. Military and police unit symbols will vary. While both Mexican Army and OPFOR units have motorized (& mechanized) capabilities the standard infantry symbol is being utilized for these groups.

1. “Mexico Inaugurates Military Barracks in Violence-Plagued Town.” Borderland Beat. Saturday 10 December 2011, The military unit deployed is the 105th Infantry Battalion. The initial story can be traced back to a SEDENA (Mexican ministry of defense) press release. See Naxiely Lopez, “Mexico's president to visit Ciudad Mier today.” The Monitor. 8 December 2011,

2. EFE, “Troops garrison Mexican border town battered by drug war.” Fox News Latino. 25 October 2011,

3.  See Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 8: 230,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Mexico and ‘Narco-Refugee’ Potentials for the United States,

4. Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Integrating Feral Cities and Third Phase Cartels/Third Generation Gangs Research: The Rise of Criminal (Narco) City Networks and BlackFor.” Small Wars & Insurgencies. Special Issue. Volume 22, Issue 5, 2011: 764-786. See

5. Vanda Felbab-Brown, The Brookings Institution. Bringing the State to the Slum: Confronting Organized Crime and Urban Violence in Latin America. See

6. Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Cartel evolution revisited.” Robert J. Bunker, ed., Narcos Over the Border. London: Routledge, 2011: 30-54.

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 9

Mon, 12/05/2011 - 8:13am

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 9:

 Why Does Napolitano Focus on Al Qaeda Lone Wolves

and Ignore the Mexican Cartels?

Via The Associated Press, 2 December 2011. Circulated in major newspapers including the Washington Post, Miami Herald, and the Denver Post:

Napolitano says lone wolf terror threat growing

PARIS (AP) — U.S. Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano says the risk of “lone wolf” attackers is on the rise as the global terrorist threat has shifted in recent years.

Napolitano is also warning about the need to keep dangerous travelers from reaching the United States and urging European partners to finalize a deal on sharing passenger data.

Napolitano, in an interview with The Associated Press, said the agreement is needed to “make sure these global networks and global systems that we all rely on remain safe.” She spoke on a visit to Paris focused on international security cooperation.

Noting current threats to the United States, she singled out al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and “the growth of the lone wolf,” a single attacker not part of a larger conspiracy or network [1].

Analysis:  While the above statements—some might even say political “sound bytes”— uttered by US Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano were directed at America’s European allies, they convey the ongoing Washington obsession with Al Qaeda to the exclusion of other non-state threat entities. The memory of the 9/11 attacks is still a visceral experience for most of our nation’s financial and political elites.

Napolitano now equates lone wolf (Al Qaeda inspired) attackers, who need to take commercial aircraft to reach the US, as a significant threat to our nation [2]. Such terrorists have extremely limited combat capabilities, both destructive and disruptive, and suffer from lack of training, equipment, and finances. They represent nodal criminal-soldiers (devoid of network support) who at best can engage in sporadic active aggressor (shooter) or IED (improvised explosive device) attacks. Such attackers are not the most pressing US national security threat; even if a few got through, the damage inflicted will be inconsequential to the integrity of American society and the functioning of its governmental system [3]. Yes—even a suicide bomber or two detonating in the Mall of the Americas, on Wall Street, or in a high-end bistro in N.W. DC is a survivable attack for our nation, though the media would replay newscasts of the incident ad infinitum and make quite a bit of money off of the ad revenue in the process.

What is most amazing about Napolitano’s statements is that they ignore a far more significant threat derived from geographic proximity, mass of numbers, training and organization, wealth, and corruptive capability. Mexican cartel operatives do not have to take commercial flights to get to the US and hundreds-of-thousands of personnel exist running the gamut from foot-soldiers through lookouts into narcotics production and distribution, street extortion, human trafficking, kidnapping, and bulk thefts. Tens-of-thousands of these cartel members operate in the US in conjunction with US street, prison, and motorcycle gangs which number well in excess of 1 million individuals. The Mexican cartels control more wealth than Al Qaeda ever had at its disposal—even at Osama bin Laden’s high point— and have specialized commando units on par, if not surpassing, the best Al Qaeda could ever field. Further, the Mexican cartels have taken corruption to an art form and have compromised entire regions of the Mexican state. This corruption is now being used in a targeted manner on the US border— hundreds of documented incidents exist— a capability with which Al Qaeda has never possessed to threaten the US homeland. 

Common sense dictates that we address the real threat next door and already over the border— in excess of 1,000 US cities have Mexican cartel operatives in them. While the Mexican cartel threat to the US is subtler than that of Al Qaeda— the 9/11 attacks were indeed fierce and bloody— it is also in many ways more threatening, especially now that Al Qaeda central is a former shell of itself. While ‘border spillover’ attacks and corruption have been downplayed and wide swaths of Mexico resemble a war zone (with well over 45,000 deaths), we continually hear DHS rhetoric about Al Qaeda being the #1 threat to the United States.

Napolitano’s January 2011 statements concerning the cartels have been half-hearted at best:

"So today I say to the cartels: Don’t even think about bringing your violence and tactics across this border," Napolitano told an audience at the University of Texas at El Paso.

“You will be met by an overwhelming response. And we’re going to continue to work with our partners in Mexico to dismantle and defeat you,” she said [4].

Further, in March 2011:

The perception of Mexican drug cartel violence spilling into U.S. border towns is flat-out inaccurate, U.S. Homeland Security boss Janet Napolitano insisted Friday.

Napolitano, speaking in El Paso, Texas, declared that security along the southern U.S. border is at an all-time high.

“There is a perception that the border is worse now than it has ever been,” Napolitano said Friday in El Paso, Texas. “That is wrong. The border is better now than it ever has been.”

As for crime, the image of Mexican drug violence contaminating U.S. border cities is “wrong again,” she said [5].

This statement is in variance with documents such as 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment [6] and Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment [7] which analyze Mexican cartel penetration throughout the US and increasing incidents of border violence taking place, respectively.

Napolitano’s rhetoric is derived from a myopic focus on the “T” (terrorism) designated threat facilitated by her wearing ‘DHS bureaucratic blinders’. Since the Mexican cartel groups are not accorded the same prestige bestowed upon Al Qaeda, they are considered lesser organized crime, gang, and criminal entities. This is somewhat strange given that Napolitano in September 2010 appeared to support the use of the “T” word to describe the cartels while providing US Senate testimony:

Napolitano’s concession that Mexican drug cartels pose a terrorist threat to the United States came while she was testifying beside FBI Director Robert Mueller who told McCain that violence on the Mexican side of the border increased the “national security threat” to the United States, an assessment Napolitano shared.

“Would you agree that the violence in Mexico has dramatically escalated in, say, the last three or four years?” McCain asked.

“Yes,” said Mueller.

“And would you say that, then, increases the national security threat on the other side of our border?” asked McCain.

“Yes,” said Mueller.

When McCain asked Napolitano if she agree with that, Napolitano said, “I think that’s right. Particularly in some of the state of northern Mexico—Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, for example, homicide rates are up dramatically, attacks on government, and, of course, we saw the paper in Juarez just a few days ago, on a front page editorial saying, ‘What do we need to do?’” [8].

Still, the Mexican cartels have not been elevated to a terrorist designation, so Napolitano has since backed away from any “T” word mention. Further, Obama administration policies also appear to be at work [9]. While such bureaucratic, and possibly executive, logic plays well in Washington, it makes little sense to the rest of the nation. We, the people, need to inject some common sense into Washington threat perceptions— if not, Napolitano, or her successor, will be fixating solely on Al Qaeda for years to come and in the process continue to be preoccupied with what has become the second tier national security threat to our nation [10]. 


1. Longer reports also exist re these statements. See Angela Charlton (AP), “Napolitano Says Lone Wolf Terror Threat Growing.” ABC News. 2 December 2011,

2. To be fair, Napolitano also mentions affinity terrorists radicalized within the US. Such terrorists could immediately engage in terrorist attacks against the US homeland. While a long list of ‘lone wolf’, and even ‘gang of guys’, Al Qaeda influenced terrorist incidents (both successful and interdicted) exist, they are still the second tier threat vis-à-vis that of the Mexican cartels.

3. The author has done extensive work on the radical Islamic use of suicide bombing (including that of projecting body cavity bomb use against high value targets and writing law enforcement suicide bomber response guidance) and has been involved in projects related to active aggressor (active shooter) response. Further, he has worked on projects related to early Al Qaeda doctrine and the early characterization of the Al Qaeda network. During the Summer of 2001 a graduate student, Hakim Hazim, worked with him on a special research project pertaining to the growing Al Qaeda threat.

4. Alejandro Martinez-Cabrera. “U.S. warns Mexican cartels on cross-border violence.” Reuters. Monday 31 January 2011,

5. Larry McShane, “Mexico drug violence not spilling into U.S.; security ‘better than ever’: Napolitano.” New York Daily News. Friday 25 March 2011,

6. 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment. National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC): Washington DC, October 2011,

7. Barry R. McCaffrey and Robert H. Scales, Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment. Alexandria VA: COLGEN, September 2011,

8. Edwin Mora, “Napolitano to McCain: Yes, Mexican Cartels Pose Terror Threat to U.S.” CNS News.  24 September  2010,

9. This is reminiscent of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who stated in September 2010 that the conflict in Mexico was looking much like of what took place in Colombia with its battles against the Medellin and Cali cartels in the 1980s and 1990s. President Obama apologized and retracted her usage of the “I” (insurgency) word to describe the situation in Mexico. See Kevin Spak, “Obama Takes Back Clinton’s Comments on Mexico.” Newser. 10 September 2010,

10. Radicalized Islam, Al Qaeda inspired or otherwise, is recognized as the first tier threat to our allies in Europe. This threat goes beyond that of terrorism and includes the potentials for socio-cultural modification of the laws and norms of European society. For example 2,823 honor attacks took place in the United Kingdom last year. See “‘Honour’ attack numbers revealed by UK police forces.” BBC News. 3 December 2011,