The Texas Border Coalition recently issued its report entitled Without Strategy: America’s Border Security Blunders Facilitate and Empower Mexico’s Drug Cartels. The report makes some interesting observations, albeit sprinkled with odd and out-of-place assertions that have nothing whatsoever to do with border security. But the basic conclusions fall short of crafting the grand strategy they seek. Portions of the report are reproduced below (with running commentary).
The United States government spent about $90 billion over the past decade to secure the U.S.-Mexico border. The results are mixed, with apprehension rates up to 90 percent for undocumented persons seeking to cross the frontier between designated U.S.-Mexico border crossings, yet the Mexican drug cartels continue to enjoy commercial success smuggling more drugs than ever into the country through the legal border crossings.
A significant part of the $90 billion government expense has been the deployment of U.S. military forces, including the National Guard, to supplement Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection forces on the Mexican border. A recent Government Accountability Office briefing on the costs and benefits of the Department of Defense role in securing the Southwest land border reported that DOD officials “are concerned that there is no comprehensive southwest border security strategy” and the National Guard’s role has been “ad hoc.”
The military forces deployed to the border don’t “include” National Guard, it is comprised entirely by National Guard. And as we have discussed before, the National Guard isn’t doing what the public thinks they are doing.
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.
The National Guard has been “deployed” to the border to perform clerical functions and do overwatch and reporting. The report does well to point out the high cost of deployment of these troops considering the very little that they have accomplished. Returning to the report.
As the U.S. spent $90 billion seeking to secure the Southwest border, the Mexican cartels have continued to smuggle cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine through the legal border crossings in California and South Texas, and marijuana between border crossings in remote areas of Arizona. They generally smuggle smaller loads of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine in non-commercial vehicles (cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks) to blend in with cross-border traffic. As the Mexican drug cartels flourish in the face of $90 billion spent to secure the border through which they conduct their trade, the U.S. continues to focus on border security tactics grounded in operation that began in the 1990s when an anti-immigration backlash fueled crackdowns code-named “Operation Gatekeeper” and “Operation Hold-the-Line.” Debates in Congress focus on building more fences and walls and whether to snuff environmental protections for public lands on the Southwest and Northern borders.
As reported by the Department of Defense and the Government Accountability Office, America’s border security effort lacks strategic direction and operates on an ad hoc basis. Without a strategy, America will continue to lose the border security war to the better financed, equipped, more mobile and agile drug cartels. Our national success depends on defining and executing a strategy to defeat the cartels attacking our nation.
The legal border crossings on the U.S. southwestern border have become America’s weakest border security link. Since the cartels choose to smuggle most of their products through the border crossings, a sensible strategy would be to attack their trade where it occurs and anticipate where their smuggling operations might move in response. Yet, the Department of Homeland Security has chosen to ignore these developments and refused to develop a strategy to confront them.
Budget forecasts by Department of Homeland Security officials suggest no new funding for border security infrastructure at the official border crossings for many years and personnel accounts will essentially remain static during that time. While new equipment may become available, some cannot be utilized because the electrical facilities at the border crossings are outdated and inadequate to support the expensive new tools. Congress and the Administration confront a choice when considering strategic directions for securing the U.S-Mexican border. At a minimum, the Texas Border Coalition recommends that Congress and the President have a strategy rather than addressing this challenge ad hoc.
The strategic paths forward offer a choice between closing the gaps between the border
crossings, where criminals face a 90 percent likelihood of apprehension, or addressing the inadequate infrastructure, technology and law enforcement personnel at the southwest border crossings where criminals are less challenged by an apprehension rate of merely 28 percent.
The Texas Border Coalition suggests that the only reasonable path forward is to refocus our border security priorities where our nation is most vulnerable: at the legal border crossings. Spending additional billions of dollars on more Border Patrol agents, fencing-walls or exempting the Border Patrol from the rule of law should be lower priorities compared to making the official border crossings functional in securing our borders.
To choose the other path and continue to fight the border security war where it has been won (between the border crossings) and to continue to surrender the war where we are losing (at the border crossings) is to threaten our national and border security and resign our nation to defeat.
This document is focused on the security aspects of border strategy, especially as they related to Mexican drug cartels. There are additional benefits to improving the security at America’s border crossings, including facilitation of legitimate trade and travel with Mexico, providing a major benefit to the American economy and jobs.
U.S. manufacturers and consumers depend on ready access to Mexican markets and goods. U.S. exporters serve the Mexican market and profit from foreign sales. Border region businesses in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas tie their livelihoods to trade and create jobs for American workers. Mexico is America’s third largest trading partner behind only Canada and China.
U.S.-Mexico trade totals $400 billion, a nearly fivefold increase since the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), with most goods crossing via commercial truck. More than 13,000 trucks bring over $630 million worth of goods into the U.S. from Mexico every day. U.S. exports to Mexico total $163 billion.
As a matter of general strategy, America cannot solve our budgetary problems solely by cutting expenses. We must increase our revenues. Making our border crossings more efficient in conducting legal trade with both Canada and Mexico will increase our national revenues and give us the resources to fight the other problems we face in our borders.
Take careful note of the trade imbalance. The report has turned the horrible loss to our economy into a supposed boon if we control the legal border crossings better than we currently do. But a trade imbalance as large as this isn’t good for the economy. Further facilitating this trade imbalance may be the raison d’être for the grand strategy they recommend, but it falls far short of being a compelling reason to implement any of their recommendations.
Also, the report seems to downplay the very real problem of border insecurity at locations other than official border crossings. But the Arizona ranchers might not be so impressed by the coalition’s claim that the border war has been won except for the crossings. There is still a very real problem, and any diminution of that problem of late has only to do with an ailing American economy rather than any success by U.S. law enforcement. Finally, to state flatly that “America cannot solve our budgetary problems solely by cutting expenses. We must increase our revenues,” is out of place and irrelevant. It is a value judgment rather than a statement of fact. It detracts from the supposed seriousness of the report.
However, the coalition’s focus on the official border crossings does have merit, and the crossings played a role in our own previous recommendations.
- Searching every vehicle that crosses the border checkpoints.
- Increased sting and undercover operations by law enforcement to root out corruption.
- Sending the U.S. Marines to the border to (a) construct and occupy combat outposts and observations posts, (b) conduct regular foot patrols of the border, and (c) be allowed (by the U.S.) to cross the border if necessary to chase Mexican insurgents.
- Taking Congressional action to remove legal requirements such as the SCOTUS decision in Tennessee v. Garner, thus allowing the Marines to conduct combat operations at the border rather than law enforcement operations.
- U.S. Special Operations Forces raids against Mexican cartel high value targets inside of Mexico (with or without the permission of the Mexican government, unilaterally, and without Mexican involvement).
The coalition’s report has made the mistake of making this an “either-or” choice rather than what it needs to be, “both-and.” While we’re engaging in debates about grand strategy, it’s important to note the state of affairs at the border again.
A federal grand jury in Laredo, TX, convicted a Zetas-linked “hitman” on a raft of conspiracy, racketeering and weapons charges on Jan. 25, after hearing testimony that outlined activities of the gang’s vicious assassination cells on both sides of the southern border.
Gerardo Castillo-Chavez, also called “Cachetes,” a native of Tamaulipas, Mexico, was convicted on all the counts against him, including conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, interstate travel in aid of racketeering (ITAR), and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime or a crime of violence.
Castillo-Chavez’ trial began on Jan. 17 with jury selection and the verdicts were reached after four-and-a-half days of trial testimony and six hours of deliberation, said the FBI in a Jan. 25 statement.
Castillo-Chavez and 33 others were charged in Feb. 2010 with 47 counts of conspiracy to kidnap and murder U.S. citizens in a foreign country, drug conspiracy, kidnapping conspiracy, firearms conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, use of juveniles to commit a violent crime, accessory after the fact, solicitation, as well as substantive money laundering, drug trafficking, and ITAR charges.
As to tactics, “Witnesses, including a federal informant and former Zetas operatives, offered a dramatic and sometimes gruesome peek into the inner workings of the cartel’s drug-smuggling operations in Mexico and the U.S.
Among the most grisly testimony: new cartel recruits were trained to kill at a camp near the small Mexican town of San Fernando, where the remains of 200 bodies were unearthed last year.
The informant testified that would-be hit men were ordered to kill people — sometimes with machetes and sledgehammers — as a way to test their mettle.”
In all, 34 killers (in this one instance) were released to the U.S. to conduct operations on the U.S. side of the border. This is a stark reminder that there is little time left.
Losing the Border War
Threat Assessment: Transnational Jihadists and Mexican Cartels
Legalization Of Drugs Won’t End The Border War
Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment