The Mexican military has retooled, adapted and retrained to conduct stability operations within its own borders.
Woe is the diplomat who uses the wrong word, no matter its veracity. Over the past year, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Undersecretary of the Army Joseph Westphal separately have used the word “insurgency” to describe the Mexican government’s fight against indigenous criminal cartels.
Maybe it comes too easily after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in Mexico the word stirs cultural memories of heroic freedom fighters-not exactly the message that the government wants to convey-and drew cries of outrage from Mexico City, resulting in diplomatic retractions from U.S. officials.
I have called the cartel and gang violence both warlord-ism and an insurgency. But of course, I have no romantic notion of insurgents as freedom fighters. The insurgents in South America throughout the last quarter of the last century were mainly communists. They weren’t fighting for anyone’s freedom from anything. But since South and Central America is steeped in Marxist thinking, and thus conflates freedom with revolution, Mexico City became outraged. Mexico City might prefer to think of them only as criminals, but at least they seem to be reacting to the problem with the correct tools.
Still, insurgency or no, one thing is for certain: The cartels present a serious, multifaceted, and increasingly well-trained and well-armed challenge to the state, but Mexico is reconfiguring its armed forces to meet the challenge.
Frequently outgunned and sometimes corrupted, entire police forces have been sacked and their duties assumed by the Mexican military in recent years. In December 2011, the entire Veracruz police force was fired, with the 800 officers replaced by 2,400 marines. The military has taken over policing in other places, such as Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Leon and the border state of Tamaulipas.
At the same time, according to analysts, there also has been a real shift in the training and equipping of the military to meet the cartel threat. The army’s training doctrine has been realigned to address stability operations, doing things like setting up checkpoints and working to implement law and order in towns that have been overrun by violence. “They’re conducting stability operations in areas the size of Belgium,” says Inigo Guevara, a consultant on Mexican security and defense issues based in Washington. In one effort to rebuild its presence in the north, the armed service recently spent about $100 million to buy battalion- and company-sized “mobile headquarters” that can be easily constructed and taken down, in preparation for longer-term domestic stability operations, he adds.
Yet, these operations occur against an increasingly sophisticated enemy, with heavily armored “infantry” carriers dubbed “Los Monstruos” (the Monsters) by the Mexican media, as well as more professional infantry tactics refined at training camps in the barren spaces of northern Guatemala and southern Mexico. Cartel gangs are armed with everything from assault rifles and crew-served weapons, to military-grade explosives, .50 caliber rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, as well as using insurgent weapons like car bombs.
As a result, the army and marines have started to look for alternatives to the older, thin-skinned Humvees-Mexico has produced several thousand in local plants in a deal with AM General-and toward a variety of new armored vehicles like Oshkosh’s SandCat, of which 250 have been delivered so far. The navy also has conducted operational testing of Renault’s Sherpa light scout vehicle, most notably in operations in Veracruz late last year, but has not made a final decision on whether to buy it.
This is reminiscent of the need for MRAPs due to the IED threat in Iraq. Note that Mexico isn’t relying on the police to curb the violence. Mexico City has enlisted the assistance of the military in a big way, and the military is purchasing weapons and equipment needed for fighting large scale, violent, and highly effective insurgencies.
Aviation Week continues into the weeds concerning equipment, organization of the Mexican military, and various problems they sustain due to inefficiency in structure. But continuing with this theme of warlord-ism, and insurgents, if we’ve learned nothing else from the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, we understand the need to control the borders, even if we didn’t effect that control.
The Arizona legislature might just act in lieu of the federal government to control their own section of the border.
The Republican-led Arizona Legislature is considering a bill to fund an armed, volunteer state militia to respond to emergencies and patrol the U.S.-Mexico border.
Gov. Jan Brewer could deploy the volunteers using $1.9 million included in the bill making its way through the state Senate. The militia itself was created by a law signed by Brewer last year.
The Arizona Republic reports the bill has a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Appropriations Committee. Senate Bill 1083 has already passed one committee along mostly party lines. It would provide $500,000 in one-time funding and $1.4 million a year from a gang task force fund.
The state is expecting a budget surplus this year, but lawmakers must deal with long-term debt and the May 2013 expiration of the 1-cent-per-dollar sales-tax increase, so it is unclear how much support this bill will receive.
“Something has to be done about the situation at the border — people are being terrorized,” Sen. Sylvia Allen, a Republican from Snowflake who is sponsoring the bill, told The Republic. “There are plenty of ex-law-enforcement officers who could do this. I don’t have any illusion that we can solve our border problem, but this would help.”
Former LEOs or not, they would be operating under rules that apply to everyone, i.e., deadly force can only be used in the case of imminent danger to life or sexual assault. It isn’t clear that they would even have arrest authority.
What I have recommended is that the rules for the use of force be amended to move away from the Supreme Court decision in Tennessee versus Garner. This has also been termed “exempting the Border Patrol from the rule of law,” but I have recommended that the U.S. Marines be used to patrol the Southern border.
The rules of warfare are clear.
The law pertaining to the conduct of hostilities (jus in bello), which has developed since antiquity and includes certain provisions of the modern Geneva and Hague conventions, permits the sanctioned killing of an opponent in an armed conflict, regardless of whether he is armed at the moment he is engaged. So long as the opponent meets the minimum criteria to be regarded as a combatant (even an unlawful combatant), he may be engaged with deadly force, even if he is separated from his weapon. He may be killed while sleeping, eating, taking a shower, cleaning his weapon, meditating, or standing on his head. It is his status as an enemy combatant, not his activity at the moment of engagement, which is dispositive.
So the following situation is posed to help the reader understand how serious he or she is concerning security on the border. You are a border patrol officer, or a U.S. Marine, and you have charge of border security in your area of operations. A string of what appears to be several dozen illegal immigrants is heading across the border (and is now on the U.S. side of the border), as you have ascertained using night vision.
In the front and bringing up the rear are two individuals, each toting what appears to be an AK-47, but what is most surely a weapon. No one has fired any shots towards you at this point. Is it morally justified to shoot and kill the individuals holding the weapons? This is a different question that is it currently legal.