Men wheeling a giant catapult up to a wall, lobbing heavy objects to the other side, could be a battle scene out of The Lord of the Rings.
The setting is not Middle Earth, but the equally surreal US-Mexico border. Perhaps the only things missing are the Orcs and wizards.
Mexican drug smugglers searching for innovative ways to transport their narcotics were discovered using a 9-foot-tall catapult to launch bundles of marijuana over the border fence and into the United States (see video below).
Mexican drug traffickers have long devised creative ways of smuggling their products into the US, the largest narcotics market in the world and worth tens of billions of dollars per year.
Authorities have discovered sophisticated drug tunnels running under the border, replete with rail cars and ventilation systems. Semi-submersible vessels have transported cocaine aboard so-called "narcosubs" from Colombia to Mexico. Couriers are known to whisk drugs, cash, and guns past US and Mexican customs in car tires and diaper trucks, while illegal migrants are forced to become drug mules.
In an operation last week to seize the catapult, National Guard troops reportedly took surveillance video of men loading the device – a metal beam powered by strong elastic – and passed along the tape to Tuscon Border Patrol. Mexican authorities were then tipped off. They disrupted the catapult operations just across the border with Arizona, near the Mexican town of Naco, about 80 miles southeast of Tucson.
Mexican Army officials on Jan. 21 reportedly seized the contraption and 45 pounds of marijuana, but the smugglers escaped.
The Obama administration sent 1,200 National Guard troops to the border in May 2010 to provide surveillance support and to gather intelligence. States bordering Mexico have criticized the administration for not doing more to secure the border, although authorities this week said that the operation to seize the catapult underscored the joint efforts between US and Mexico to prevent smuggling.
"The Border Patrol’s partnerships with Mexican authorities, the National Guard, and the public enhance our efforts to address and disrupt the organized drug trafficking threat at the border and serves to degrade the capabilities of transnational criminal organizations," Tucson Sector Associate Chief Jose Cruz told the Tucson Sentinel.