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.
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[The shootouts] come amid a spike in violence along Mexico's northern border as drug gangs battle one another and face off against law enforcement agencies that have stepped up efforts against organized crime.
The Arellano Félix drug cartel, long the dominant criminal organization in Baja California, has lost key leaders in recent years, leaving smaller cells to operate more independently, U.S. and Mexican experts say. Some groups have expanded from drug smuggling to kidnapping and extortion.
"There is a war all along the northern border, not just in Baja California," Rommel Moreno Manjarréz, Baja California's attorney general, said at an afternoon news conference.
The supply of cocaine declined in several U.S. cities during the first half of 2007, according to the U.S. National Drug Threat Assessment, a multi-agency report on the problem.
The drop in availability was probably a combined result of several large seizures of cocaine shipments en route to the United States, Mexico's anti-drug efforts, and warfare among rival Mexican traffickers, the report says.
By late 2007, supply "appeared to be returning to normal" in some U.S. markets, the report says. At the same time, the amount of cash smuggled in bulk from the United States to Mexico continued to increase, a sign that traffickers' revenues are still healthy.
Calderón admits the crackdown hasn't reduced violence yet, saying it will take years to seize back control of large parts of Mexico from the drug gangs. That leaves many people impatient.
"Other countries – even Iraq – have strategies against violence," said Dr. Ruben Corral.... "What is our Plan B? We don't know what the government's strategy is."
According to the security assessment group, Stratfor (subscription required), the violence and the drug trade continue because local government officials are involved, which underscores why the problem on the US border may not be resolved through military might alone.
These firefights also came just a few days after an army general responsible for military efforts against organized crime in Tijuana released a letter to the media in which he named state and city officials whom he accused of negligence, corruption and complicity with organized crime. The publication of the letter has already led to at least one resignation – and prompted the general to increase his personal security. Given these developments, it seems unlikely the security situation in the city will improve anytime soon.