Archive for the 'U.S. Border Security' Category



Threat Assessment: Transnational Jihadists and Mexican Cartels

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 6 months ago

Robert Bunker writing at Small Wars Journal assesses the relative threat posed by transnational Islamic jihadists versus the Mexican cartels.  After citing a portion of Napolitano’s concern about the growth of the lone wolf terror threat, Robert weighs in.

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. 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. 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.

I’m a bit troubled by Robert’s seeming dismissal of the threat of transnational Islamic insurgency.  True enough, the so-called “lone wolf” cannot do much more than inflict terror and localized loss of life and property. But Robert is assuming that all such terrorists are going to be lone wolfs.  Perhaps not, and perhaps also since we know that Hezbollah fighters are crossing the Southern Border, Robert’s assumption forces the conclusion that it isn’t a threat.

On the contrary, in A Terrorist Attack That America Cannot Absorb I described a plausible scenario in which economic disaster would be effected as a result of the attack.  True enough, this kind of attack would require several hundred well trained, well equipped and highly motivated fighters – fighters and equipment that a group like al Qaeda may not currently be able to field.  But it’s also true that Hezbollah may be able to, and an attack of this nature, even if only partially successful with fewer fighters than I have described, would have significant consequences.  In my view Robert is thinking tactically rather than strategically as he pans the idea that transnational Islamic fighters are no longer a threat.  Small time hits against human-targer rich environs are a tactic of terror.  Destruction of infrastructure directly resulting in the inability to replace that infrastructure is a strategy – one that thankfully the enemy hasn’t deployed.

However, I agree with his assessment of the threat of Mexican cartels.

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.

On a related note, I am not at all persuaded that we are winning the border war by reports that arrests on the Southern border have plummeted.  The number of Hispanic students in Alabama also recently plummeted due the implementation of E-Verify.  The failing American economy is less enticing for illegal immigrants, and so it isn’t surprising that the balance of illegals coming and going is being modified.  There is also a shift in violence within Mexico itself, meaning that areas that were once secure are now not, and vice versa.

That doesn’t mean that the border is secure.  Analogous errors in judgment occurred in Iraq when we believed that the tribal awakening in Ramadi secured Anbar, when in reality the insurgents had simply moved to Fallujah and had to be cleared from that city in 2007.  Pressing the Taliban out of Helmand moved them to Quetta (for R&R), Kandahar, Kunar and Nuristan.

The cartels will prove to be adaptive and amorphous, and we should generally ignore anecdotes as a pointer to larger trends.

Prior:

A Terrorist Attack That America Cannot Absorb

Border War

Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment

Border War

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 6 months ago

We have previously discussed the adoption of military style tactics, techniques and procedures by the Mexican cartels, the increasing corruption of the U.S. border patrol, and the recruitment of large numbers of High Schoolers by the cartels.  After observing that the use of the National Guard is problematic for a number of reasons (including the lack of training, the lack of appropriate rules for the use of force, etc.), I 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.

We now know that gang members are being recruited by the cartels to do street-level jobs, and the loss of border security has wreaked ecological disaster.

“I have learned to live with trash,” said fifth-generation Arizona rancher Jim Chilton.

He saw his once-beautiful ranch, just a few miles from the border with Mexico, is now dotted with clusters of crushed trees and cactus, whole hillsides have been turned into charred eyesores, years worth of his award-winning conservation projects obliterated — and the whole thing is littered with trash, tons and tons of trash. And some of the trash was dead bodies.

Chilton had the misfortune of settling in the path of what would become a dangerous drug- and human-smuggling route on the U.S.-Mexican border, parallel with the notorious Peck Canyon Corridor.

“I’ve got 30,000 to 40,000 illegal aliens coming right through the ranch every year, and the Forest Service says each one leaves about eight pounds of trash. That means 100 tons of trash. Some cows eat the plastic bags and about 10 head a year die a slow and painful death. At $1,200 a head, that means we lose $12,000 a year to trash.”

Chilton saw southern Arizona not as the headline-grabbing political flashpoint of the Justice Department’s failed “Fast and Furious” guns-to-smugglers tracking project, but as the land-grabbing opportunism of Obama’s resource management agencies and, sadly, the failure of the U.S. Border Patrol to secure that bloody line separating the United States from Mexico.

The land-grabbing chapter of the trash story has gone largely unnoticed, but surfaced last year when the Bureau of Land Management proposed to shut down target shooting on 490,000 acres in the Sonoran Desert National Monument — and in large swaths of other public lands as well.

The reason? Monument manager Richard Hanson claimed shooters were leaving trash at the shooting sites, an outrageously trumped up excuse, but Hanson’s claim couldn’t be refuted at the time.

The BLM had closed 400,000 acres of publicly owned, national monument lands across three states to recreational shooting activities in 2010, labeling recreational shooting as a resource-harming activity and a public safety threat.

That was a clear signal showing that the SDNM move was just another step in Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s obnoxious “lock-it-up-and-kick-’em-out” plans that have drawn the ire of Congress.

If it seems that the administration is taking an un-serious view of border security (intentionally conflating the trash left by illegals with shooters), then this report shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Federal agents trying to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border say they’re hampered by laws that keep them from driving vehicles on huge swaths of land because it falls under U.S. environmental protection, leaving it to wildlife — and illegal immigrants and smugglers who can walk through the territory undisturbed.

A growing number of lawmakers are saying such restrictions have turned wilderness areas into highways for criminals. In recent weeks, three congressional panels, including two in the GOP-controlled House and one in the Democratic-controlled Senate, have moved to give the Border Patrol unfettered access to all federally managed lands within 100 miles of the border with Mexico.

While the cartels develop intricate intelligence networks and adopt military style tactics, the U.S. prohibits access to lands controlled by the Bureau of Land Management due to EPA regulations, and blames trash at the border on shooters.  It’s no wonder that insurgents have gone hunting at the border – not hunting for animal game, but human game.

Five illegal immigrants armed with at least two AK-47 semi-automatic assault rifles were hunting for U.S. Border Patrol agents near a desert watering hole known as Mesquite Seep just north of the Arizona-Mexico border when a firefight erupted and one U.S. agent was killed, records show.

A now-sealed federal grand jury indictment in the death of Border Patrol agent Brian A. Terry says the Mexican nationals were “patrolling” the rugged desert area of Peck Canyon at about 11:15 p.m. on Dec. 14 with the intent to “intentionally and forcibly assault” Border Patrol agents.

Commenter Scott Wilson recommends the following:

They should take the 7th Army (and the Ghost of Patton), and all its subordinate units, and move it lock, stock & barrel to Del Rio, TX. They can then patrol the banks of the Rio Grande with Bradley’s, Apaches & Cobras. Then, let’s see how much success these border insurgents, armed with the semi-auto AKs have against that.

Germany has the strongest economy in Europe. It can afford to defend itself from Russian aggression. If it can’t, then we have PLENTY of military contractors that can sell them the weapons that they need. Europe needs to stand on its own. Our resources need to be protecting our borders, not Germany’s.

This sentiment is certainly in line with my own, but unfortunately, roving the border with Bradley Fighting Vehicles won’t work.  This requires combat outposts and Marines (or Soldiers) on foot patrol.  Infantry – not mechanized infantry – is the order of the day.

But it will require more than that.  As long as we continue to treat the border as a law enforcement endeavor, with agents subject to rules such as those outlined in the Supreme Court decision in Tennessee versus Garner, with criminals imprisoned or sent back to Mexico to try it all again, we will continue to lose the war at the border.  Imprisonment of drug traffickers and illegals won’t work any more than prisons work in counterinsurgency.  Prisons are a costly ruse.

Make no mistake about it.  This isn’t a war against drugs, or a war against the drug cartels, or a war against illegal immigration, or even a war against human trafficking or Hezbollah fighters entering the U.S. at the Southern border.  This is a war for national sovereignty – a border war.

Law enforcement cannot do the job when people are afraid to call them for fear of retribution and are being told to wear body armor to work out in their own fields.

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A border war.  Only when we militarize the border with combat outposts and shoot all trespassers will we even begin to wage the war on the enemy’s terms.  In spite of claims that the Posse Comitatus Act applies, this war is against non-U.S. citizens, and it is a fight for the survival of what defines America.  Presidents in both parties have seen America as an idea rather than a location with secure borders.

If America is an idea and the Southern border is to be just an imaginary line, then we have already lost.  If America deserves defending, then we must do what is both uncomfortable and necessary to effect its security.

Prior on Border War: Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment

Prior Featured: Analysis of Brief For The U.S. In Opposition to Sean Masciandaro

Border Security and Potemkin Solutions

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 8 months ago

Dan Riehl conveys a report on one of Governor Rick Perry’s solutions to the war at the border.

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said on Saturday that as president, he would consider sending American troops into Mexico to help defeat drug cartels and improve border security. He indicated that any such action would be done “in concert” with the Mexican government.

“It may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and to keep them off of our border and to destroy their network,” Mr. Perry said during a campaign appearance here.

Dan observes that:

As I suspect there’s little to no support across America for deploying troops to Mexico under any circumstances – and it would likely never happen in the first place – it was, in a word, dumb to even bring it up. Pssst, Rick, if you have to cross the border to deal with a problem, maybe the border IS the problem to stay focused upon if you’re running for President of a, you know, sovereign nation? Imagine that. Suggesting sending troops into Mexico only reinforces the idea of a reluctance, or inability to deal with the core issue – sealing the border. It may even be somewhat honest on his part. But it’s simply not good politics. Perry may not only be in Texas right now. But if this keeps up, he will be and will remain there after 2012.-

I suspect that Dan is right and there is no stomach for sending troops of any kind into Mexico.  I have advocated some variant of what Perry is suggesting, although it’s difficult to know exactly what he is suggesting since he has given no detail.  In Texas Border Security: A Strategic Assessment (and also previously) my advocacy has included (but has not been restricted to) the following:

  1. Searching every vehicle that crosses the border checkpoints.
  2. Increased sting and undercover operations by law enforcement to root out corruption.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).

Several military and former military friends and contacts have weighed in with me recently with the view that the gravest national security risk faced by America today comes from South of the border, not Pakistan or Yemen.  I have recommended treating this as a war against warlords and insurgents rather than a law enforcement operation, and my sense of things is that the American public, even if they don’t support sending U.S. troops into Mexico in companion operations with Mexican troops, support some sort of militarization of the border.

For the American public, however, it always seems a legitimate solution to send the National Guard to the border.  We tried this, and because of lack of training, the application of Tennessee v. Garner to their operations, arming orders that focus on prevention of incidents, misunderstanding of the Posse Comitatus Act and why it doesn’t really apply to border troops, and host of other problematic bureaucratic entanglements, a National Guard outpost was overrun by Mexican fighters partly because the troops didn’t even have weapons.

Sending National Guard troops to the border is a Potemkin solution as we have previously demonstrated.  But military operations alongside Mexican troops – as Perry has suggested – will be equally ineffective while the border isn’t secure.  There is absolutely no replacement for securing the border, regardless of how the solution might be dressed and served up.

Another Potemkin solution is given to us by Terry Goddard, Attorney General of Arizona (lengthy quote).

As the Attorney General of Arizona, I have been part of law enforcement on the southwestern border for most of the past decade. My office confronted border crime on an almost daily basis. From that view, it is clear that much of the “secure the border” debate is nonsense. Again and again, symbols trump reality, misinformation buries the truth. Programs like building a bigger border wall or enlisting police in the local enforcement of immigration laws are sold as ways to make the border more secure. They will not. In the latter instance, the “cure” could actually make the crime problem worse. Equally misguided is the idea that a force buildup alone can keep the border secure in the face of increasingly sophisticated smuggling organizations—the cartels.

Since improved border security is a common denominator in the immigration debate, both sides should be anxious to know what actually works. This paper is based on the assumption that sincere parties on both sides want to go beyond the rhetoric and the symbols. I believe a more effective border defense is possible, but not on the present course. Not by the Administration’s defense-only buildup of Border Patrol and National Guard on the border, and not by the huge investment in bricks and mortar or the quasi-military responses proposed by the Administration’s critics.

A more effective border strategy starts with the money; the torrent of cash pouring across the border into the cartel pocketbooks. Cartels are, first and foremost, business enterprises.  Sophisticated cartel organizations are formed not for any lust for power or to employ the bosses’ relatives, but because they maximize profits. Cartel agents do not threaten, terrorize, and kill because they love the work, or out of religious zeal. They do it because they are very well-paid. So, go after the money. Taking away the profit cripples the organization. Conversely, as long as the money from drug sales and human smuggling—which may total more than $40 billion a year—flows to the cartels, the violence in Mexico, the sophisticated smugglers crossing our border, and the perception that nothing is being done to defend the border will continue.

We can also do a much better job of taking the fight directly to the drug cartels using the full arsenal of law-enforcement methods. We can significantly reduce the number of illegal crossers and the amounts of illegal drugs smuggled, as well as the violence in Mexico. The answers are straightforward; the mystery is why they have not been taken up long ago.

Read all of his report.  We should indeed use all tools at our disposal, including freezing assets and other tools mentioned by Goddard.  But this notion that “force alone” cannot secure the border is juvenile, and similar to the population-centric counterinsurgency mantra that “you cannot kill your way to victory.”  Of course you can, and of course force can make the border secure.  And of course the involvement of local law enforcement can help federal efforts (if such efforts exist at all).

It strikes me as silly and and stolid to suggest that something we have never tried won’t work.  It also strikes me as silly and stolid that Perry’s advisers haven’t to this date informed him that he cannot score the nomination while holding his current views of immigration and the border.  Finally, it strikes me as particularly dangerous for the American voting public not to be informed enough to know when a recommendation (such as sending National Guard troops to the border, or going after cartel assets to the exclusion of all other efforts, including border security) is a Potemkin solution.  It’s the sovereignty and security of America that is at stake.

Prior: Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment

Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 8 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.


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