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Terrorism & Security

Defense Secretary Gates calls for Mexican border security

Visiting Mexico, the US's top defense official says he wants funds to fight drug-trafficking violence and ward off potential threats from militants entering the US.

By David Montero / April 30, 2008

As violence flares in Mexico's drug war, threatening security on the US border, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates made a historic trip to Mexico this week as part of the Pentagon's push for Latin American countries to deploy more military resources against drug trafficking. It's also part of a security effort to shore up potential threats that could emerge from militants crossing the border.

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Shootouts in Tijuana, Mexico's most violent city, are nothing new. But a recent firefight between drug cartels was one of the more violent episodes, Reuters reports.

Mexico's government sent more than 3,000 soldiers and federal police to Tijuana on Tuesday, stepping up a war against violent drug smugglers after 17 gunmen were killed in a street battle between cartels.

The move is part of a broader deployment of soldiers that Mexico's president, Felipe Calderón, has initiated at Washington's behest. Mr. Calderon has sent 24,000 military and security forces to areas overrun by drug gangs; Mexico drug trade resulted more than 2,500 deaths in 2007, reported The Christian Science Monitor.

The violence comes as Mr. Gates was in Mexico to meet with Mexican defense ministry officials – the second-ever visit to Mexico by a US defense secretary, Agence France-Presse reports.

Gates said the focus of his talks in Mexico was the so-called Merida Initiative proposed by US President George W. Bush in October to build up the capabilities of the Mexican military and law enforcement to battle drug cartels.
The multi-year package would provide, among other things, helicopters and surveillance aircraft to the Mexican military, which the Pentagon sees as an opportunity to strengthen military ties that historically have been chilly.
The US administration has requested 550 million dollars for the program this year in a 2008 emergency war funding bill that the US Congress has so far failed to approve.
Gates said he hoped on the basis of conversations with leaders in both houses that the Congress will act on the bill by the end of May.
"Failure to do so I think would be I think a real slap at Mexico, and it would be very disappointing," he said.

Reuters reports that the security package is tied to the U.S. war on terrorism:

Bush administration officials view the program as a possible lever for deepening U.S.-Mexican military relations at a time when Washington needs Mexico's help in shoring up border security against potential threats from Islamist militants.
The Pentagon sees crime, drugs and street gangs as the top security problems facing Latin America and wants the region's soldiers, not its police, to tackle them.

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