Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 2 months ago

Two very important individuals in the military (and now consulting) community, Barry McCaffrey and Robert Scales, have penned a much-anticipated study entitled Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment.

The state on the ground in the war with the Mexican cartels is remarkable.  We’ve already discussed how the Mexican cartels have adopted military-style tactics, techniques and procedures.

Mexican drug cartels are using military weapons and tactics while also recruiting Texas teenagers to carry out their operations, which are evolving into full-blown criminal enterprises, experts said.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven C. McCraw said last week in a report given to Congress that the cartels “incorporate reconnaissance networks, techniques and capabilities normally associated with military organizations, such as communications intercepts, interrogations, trend analysis, secure communications, coordinated military-style tactical operations, GPS, thermal imagery and military armaments, including fully automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and hand grenades.”

There is apparently massive corruption in the U.S. border patrol, and the Mexican cartels have law enforcement officials at the local, state and national levels on their payroll.  In order to combat the smuggling operations across the Rio Grande, Texas is creating a marine division.  The reach of the cartels goes into the High Schools in Texas where they are recruiting children for cartel work.

McCaffrey and Scales add to the bleak picture by showing how the cartel strategy has changed from control through locations South of the border to control via operations at least one county deep into Texas, and they discuss the increased criminalization and violence associated with the cartels.  The bleak picture dovetails with an assessment by Robert Bunker at Small Wars Journal.

Ten years after the 9/11 attack by Al Qaeda, the United States has reached a pivotal strategic decision point in our national policies. Are we to continue with our national security policy of focusing on that terrorist entity (and its group of networks) as the dominant threat to the US and the homeland or will the Mexican cartels (and their supporting gang networks) now be recognized as replacing Al Qaeda as the number one threat to our government and safety of our citizens? While the violence potentials of Al Qaeda are universally recognized— we will never forget the thousands of our dead mourned after 9/11— the violence associated with the criminal insurgent potentials of the Mexican cartels and their ability to corrupt and undermine governments in the Western Hemisphere must now be considered far more threatening to our nation.

The cartels’ influence expands to thousands of U.S. cities and communities, and there are on the order of 18,000 cartels members or associated workers in Texas alone.  The ability to intimidate and corrupt is unmatched in U.S. history – there is no national analogue to which the U.S. can refer to combat this menace.

The task for McCaffrey and Scales is big, and the bar set high.  As for their recommendations?  They sweep across a range of options, coordinated relationships, and increased efficiency in law enforcement.  Counterintelligence and sting operations are of course important, as is rapid response capabilities and increased manpower.

McCaffrey and Scales do recommend the involvement of state troops (i.e., National Guard), but all efforts in this program are seen as led by Texas Rangers.  It is fundamentally a civilian-led operation.  Perhaps this focus is in deference to the Posse Comitatus Act (Section 1385, Title 18 U.S.C.), but it isn’t at all clear that U.S. troops should be forbidden or even could be forbidden from participating in border security under this act.

Furthermore, McCaffrey and Scales have a problem with their recommendation to use National Guard under the current circumstances.  Recall that in Arizona, a National Guard-manned post was attacked and overrun by cartel fighters.  Immediately after this, the following assessment was proffered.

Unfortunately, I must report that “Armed does not always mean “armed” as most Americans would understand. There are various states of being “armed.” These are called “Arming Orders (AO)” which define where the weapon “is,” where the magazine “is,” where the bullets “are” and where the bayonet “is.” They start at Arming Order One which could best be described as a “show of force” or “window dressing” in the worse case.

After considerable searching, I was able to find a complete copy of the Memorundum of Understanding/Rules of Engagement pertaining to the National Guard Deployment (“Operation Jump Start”), which I could then review.

After reviewing the MOU/ROE, I contacted several senior “in the loop” National Guard Officers that I have previously served with, to determine how many soldiers would be “armed” and their Arming Order number. After confirming The El Paso Times article that “very few soldiers there would carry weapons,” I was advised that during the next 90 days, amongst the few soldiers that have weapons, no soldier will have an Arming Order greater than AO-1, which means that an M-16 will be on the shoulder, there will be no magazine in the weapon (thats where the bullets come from), and the magazines stored inside the “ammunition pouch” will in most cases have no ammunition, they will be empty.

It was also conveyed to myself that in the unlikely event that a soldier is ever harmed on the border, the Arming Order will not be raised. Every individual I spoke to envisions no circumstance where there will ever be soldiers at AO-3/4, where a magazine with ammunition would be immediately available. Instead the soldiers will simply be kept farther away from the border if needed. They will be deliberately kept out of harms way.

I know you are thinking (maybe screaming), “but Why?” The easy public relations answer is that a soldier could kill someone. The National Guard is going to ensure that there is not a repeat of the incident in which Esequiel Hernández was killed by a US Marine along the Border.

There are also numerous regulations pertaining to weapons. There is a requirement that a soldier must qualify with his weapon on an annual basis. Reasonably, you must be “qualified” with your weapon before you may carry a weapon. However, ranges for weapons qualification are extremely limited. National Guard soldiers normally perform their once a year required qualification when they go to Annual Training at Ft. Stewart, Ft. McCoy…… This year they are going to “the border” and unless there is a “regulation M-16 qualification range” down the road, they will not be able to get qualified. There is also the question of weapon storage and how do you prevent theft.

Even disregarding all of this, the rules for the use of force will prevent the effective use of the National Guard to accomplish border security.  That is, unless something drastically changes.

I have recommended that we view what is going on as a war against warlords and insurgents who will destabilize the state both South and even North of the border.  I have further recommended that the RUF be amended and the U.S. Marines be used to set up outposts and observation posts along the border in distributed operations, even making incursions into Mexican territory if necessary while chasing insurgents (Mexican police have used U.S. soil in pursuit of the insurgents).

While militarization of border security may be an unpalatable option for America, it is the only option that will work.  All other choices make the situation worse because it is allowed to expand and grow.  Every other option is mere window dressing.

While McCaffrey and Scales have done a service in their outline of the scope and magnitude of the problem, their recommendations are, needless to say, underwhelming.  They kick the can down the road, and the road only becomes more dangerous with time and distance.  Above it was said that there is no national analogue to the menace at the border.  The only analogue to this problem is the most recent campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The problem has exceeded the ability of law enforcement to cope.



  • Josh

    Bribery, weapons, bodies, infrastructure and more all require massive amounts of money to prop up. These things are required for a cartel to operate. The funding for these things comes directly and almost wholly from drug sales.

    So, we have the ability to strip the cartels (in mere months, Pfizer and Merck have themselves massive production infrastructure) of almost all of their income by decriminalizing a range of drugs. Of course, a decision to decriminalize a dangerous opiate like heroin or a dangerous stimulant like Methamphetamine shouldn’t be taken lightly. These substances can be decriminalized to a degree which takes money out of the cartels’ coffers but keeps these substances off of “shelves”.

    I would utterly disagree with militarization of our southern border without first gutting the horrible “war on drugs” that props everything up – on both sides of the border.

    Is exporting violence south of our border really ‘better’ than this alternative? Especially when we, as a people, are financing that violence via drug trade? Should we really be spending $500 per second on “The War on Drugs”? Why don’t we fund a task force to stop human trafficking with the the same enthusiasm with which we fund the DEA?

    Prohibition amplifies violence. It always has.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    We wouldn’t be exporting violence South of the border – it’s already there. We would be attempting to keep it from coming North of the border.

    My claim is, for better or worse, since they should be seen as warlords and insurgents, that drugs are but one means of control. Take that away, and they will find another. They won’t suddenly go home and take their guns with them resigning themselves to $15 a day jobs. They are warlords. That’s the mistake I think most people are making of this thing. We think of them and refer to them as the “drug cartels.” Think of drugs as irrelevant in this context, as irrelevant as poppy is to the Taliban. The Taliban have used pomegranates, precious jewels, mining operations, and so forth, as means of income. In fact, the TTP runs entire mining operations in Northern Pakistan, including industrial complexes. It isn’t about the drugs. It’s about power and control. Take the drugs away and they still want power and control. They must be killed.

  • KPeterson

    The violence is coming from South of the border. A fence, real or virtual, will not stop it. Border Partol does not have the manpower or firepower, and bleeding heart liberal policies would not let them use the power if they had it.

    A border lockdown – with COMBAT troops, not admin clerks carrying locked and loaded weapons might be the answer. I don’t know, but I do know what we are doing now is not the right answer.

    Some would advocate the decriminalization of drugs. That would only legalize a criminal enterprise and there would still be an underground traffic net. And tell me, how has that decriminalizing worked anywhere? It reduces people in jail, but the medical toll is higher, and you see the human toll everywhere (Thinking of Amsterdam).

    No, at the moment, we are at war with a few groups of Mexican insurgents who use drugs as their weapon. The government of Mexico cannot control them, so we must contain them.

    Its war, not police action. It is way past that.

  • http://www.firstcontactproject.org Warbucks

    I’m with Josh. Legalize it, and tax it. Our drug wars are not working on any level.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Again, the error is in assuming that this is all about a war on drugs. It’s akin to assuming that if we legalize drugs, the warlords will all take their ball and go home and refuse to play. Naive.

  • KPeterson

    Herschel I agree with what you say. It’s about control; drugs are A problem but not THE problem. To that point I ask M. Warbucks what good would come of legalizing it? The door is cracked open. Someone will open it wide open, kick it down or steal it. Maybe we need to hit rock bottom to know where up is. My altimiter and AI are working well and legalizing drugs will not address the problem. It will only give government more revenue.

  • scott s.

    Your thinking seems very consistent with my read of John Robb’s “open source insurgency” ideas. Robb seems to see the rise of groups such as Mexican cartels as inevitable, as well as the breakdown of the conventional state.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Scott. Interesting. I’m familiar with John’s work. This seems to be a little different though. For example, his views on swarm theory and insurgency don’t seem to fit this particular example, since the warlords have very tight control over every aspect of their domain. It is a very top down organization.

    As for open source, I don’t know. Perhaps they are changing the nature of the insurgency by turning loose insurgents inside the U.S. to act on their own in whatever manner they choose.

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  • http://www.firstcontactproject.org/ Warbucks

    “Again, the error is in assuming that this is all about a war on drugs. It’s akin to assuming that if we legalize drugs, the warlords will all take their ball and go home and refuse to play. Naive.”

    Naive perhaps but wouldn’t they have to try and compete on (a) market access (b) price (c) quality control. Maybe they end up paying $250-billion and buy out a drug company to gain access. That seems better than shooting their way into the markets.

  • jharry3

    When the Marine barracks was blown up in Lebannon in 1983 the Marines guarding the gates had “empty” M-16′s. No bullets allowed.
    For some reason telling the “mad bomber” to “Halt” and holding up a Stop sign didn’t work. Something about getting 72 virgin sex slaves in Paradise seems to motivate Muslims unlike any other outside influence.
    But I diverge. Empty weapons are not going to deter drug lords any more than talking in a stern manner will stop a charging lion.
    Also: I don’t see how carrying an empty weapon and becoming a sacrificial lamb for some politically correct policy is the patriotic thing for our military personnel to be asked to do.

  • 26697

    Drugs is the most profitable business in the world. How to make it less profitable: legalize it! The key is to kill the business side of the drug trade. If the drugs can be bought by the consumer below cost for the cartel they will have no business.

    BUT do we want dangerous drugs like heroin freely available? No (albeit they are already READILY available for ANY interested buyer)!

    Hence leagalize the consumption AND regulate the sale. If the drugs are available for consumption in drug consumption centers at a price below street price, the addicts (THIS IS WHERE THE BIG BUSINESS IS) will not buy on the street.

    This WHILST AT THE SAME TIME maintaining sale outside of the legal channel illegal (that is exactly like it is today) will kill the business for the drug dealers. WHY? Since as soon as anybody gets addicted, he will change (defect) to the official channel where the drugs are much cheaper.

    REMEMBER: the drugs seller (the ‘pusher’) is a formidable sales man always recruitung new customers. If we kill his incentive we will kill the drugs trade.

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  • TS Alfabet

    Geez… you really get the feeling, Herschel, that for some people, legalizing drugs is almost a holy crusade (ironically enough). The certitude that if we only legalized them, everything would be so much better. As someone pointed out above, legalization carries costs and consequences as great or greater than criminalization. But that’s really beside the point of your post, as you tried to say.

    The point is that we have a quickly failing government in Mexico that is being systematically replaced by the cartels. We are witnessing the feral dogs savaging the weakened Beast of State in Mexico even as they fight each other for the biggest and best chunks of the carcass. If they have already extended their influence into the U.S., just wait until they have consolidated their grip on power in Mexico and turned it into some kind of narco-state with the veneer of a government, perhaps.

    And then what? The cartels are perfectly positioned to take advantage of the politically correct rules in much of the U.S. Southwest. How long will it take for the cartels to subvert and control local governments in places like California and New Mexico? Do we arrogantly assume that the kind of horrific violence we see in Mexico right now will not come to the U.S. once the cartels have sorted themselves out south of the border?

    I disagree that there is nothing in U.S. history to compare to this invasion of cartels. The crime syndicates, in Chicago and New York, for example, during prohibition in the 1920′s, are at least a shadow of what we are going to facing from the cartels. And don’t think that legalizing drugs is going to solve anything. Crime syndicates have shown that they can and will expand into any sphere of business that promises significant profits and can be manipulated to their advantage. Take the longshore business as an example. Organized crime found that very lucrative once they got control of the unions because, with union control, they found an easy (and legal!) way to monopolize the business and keep out any competition.

    So what if drugs are legalized? All that means is that the government now assumes a monopoly over doling out the drugs by “licensing.” Well guess what? How difficult is it for a drug cartel (especially in this day of crony capitalism) to have those licenses to sell drugs assigned exclusively to them? Now the cartel doesn’t even have to worry about competition from rival cartels because the government is giving them a monopoly. Anyone who thinks that our government bureaucracy can regulate cartels out of existence has never bothered to look at what a failure our regulatory state has been.

    The end of prohibition did not kill the crime syndicates. It was the relentless and ruthless prosecution and killing of the mob families that did it.

    But I doubt that our society today has that kind of stomach.

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  • http://www.firstcontactproject.org Warbucks

    “legalizing drugs is almost a holy crusade” is pretty close to the way I see it. It’s only one step in a very complex entanglement of personal responsibility, ego management, personal freedom, liberty, spirituality, transcendence, and enlightenment. The path is fraught with terrors and risks and room for errors.

  • http://captainsjournal.com USCitnotMex

    The situation is even worse than what is stated.
    Large areas have signs warning US Citizens not to venture in us soil. Example: Carr Canyon, just outside Sierra Vista, AZ and Fort huachuca, AZ.
    The large area south of HWY I-8, near Casa Grande, AZ…same type signs, but larger.
    While stationed on Fort Bliss recently, the US Congressman Sylvester Reyes, nicknamed “Fifty Cent Reyes” because of his allowing illegals to cross the border for fifty cents each, early in his Border Patrol career.
    I myself wrote a report on drugs being carried over the Huachuca Mountains. And what was I told? We are not interested in illegal immigrants, not even illegals transporting drugs. This was from the DEA!
    Go to “borderinvasionpics.com”. This is the web site Janet Napolitano had blocked from ICE and Border Patrol computers.
    Speaking of Janet Napolitano, we found a significant amount of illegals were using the US assistance service (welfare, unemployment, etc). She cut the assistance fraud unit from some 19 fultime agants to three part timers who shared a vehicle with another agency twice a week!
    Janet also wanted to appoint one of the most corrupt individuals in AZ as a Border Czar.
    This is the most corrupt group the US has ever seen…

  • http://captainsjournal.com USCitnotMex

    Mexico is not a frien to the US…never was, never has been. Don’t believe it? Who did Mexioc side with in the Spanish-American war? Not the US…
    Who did Mexico side with in World War I? The Axis, not the US…
    Who did Mexico side with in World War II? The Axis, not the US…
    Who did Mexico side with during the Cold War? Not the US. Mexico had the largest amount of Soviet Bloc intelligence operatives anywhere outside the Soviet Union.
    And before a Mexican appologist says Mexico sent a unit in support of WW II, just think about it. It was a company sized unit, called a battalion, that spent almost the whole war in the US, only getting deployed to the Pacific at the very end of the war.
    No, Mexico is not our friend, never has been, never will be.

  • MGill

    Posse Comitatus….I’m not a History Major or Lawyer but repealing this would seem a very likely key to solving the border issues. I’ve done a few active duty missions along the border, JTF North, and it seemed like we never really made any difference. I think once we acknowledge the clear threat these cartels are to the US and target them (hmmmm..sound like Afghanistan mission creep into Pakistan?) with the cooperation of our Mexican brothers in the government, we could do some serious damage.

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  • Some Sock puppet

    On October 4, 2011 at 9:08 am, Warbucks said:

    “legalizing drugs is almost a holy crusade” is pretty close to the way I see it. It’s only one step in a very complex entanglement of personal responsibility, ego management, personal freedom, liberty, spirituality, transcendence, and enlightenment. The path is fraught with terrors and risks and room for errors.”

    Beautifully said.

    And I agree with USCitizenNotMex. Mexico is not a friendly country. They are aware of the giant that can crush them and step acccordingly. this does NOT mean friendly.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Featured,Mexican Cartels,Mexico,U.S. Border Security and was published September 27th, 2011 by Herschel Smith.

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