Mexico suffered one of its worst days of drug violence this year Tuesday, highlighting that, even as the Obama administration turns its sights to Afghanistan and Pakistan, a major policy challenge is burning right on the border.
Agence France-Presse reports that at least 35 people were killed in 24 hours of drug-related violence in Mexico, "one of the bloodiest days so far this year."
Tuesday, 21 people were killed in a shootout between Mexico's army and gunmen in the northern state of Chihuahua, a military spokesman said.
The standoff began when suspected drug gang members kidnapped nine people in Villa Ahumada, 130 kilometers (81 miles) south of the violence-stricken border city of Ciudad Juarez.
The Los Angeles Times explains that "the region has been at the center of the war between Juarez-based traffickers and rivals from the northwestern state of Sinaloa. In May, dozens of attackers stormed Villa Ahumada, killing the police chief, two officers and three civilians. They also reportedly hauled off 10 other people."
That violence may be a world away from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. But increasingly, it is beginning to look more and more like the brutal bloodshed of those countries, as Johann Hari, a correspondent for the London Independent, writes in The Huffington Post.
Where in the world are you most likely to be beheaded?... Where are hand grenades being tossed into crowds to intimidate the public into shutting up? Which country was just named by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff as the most likely after Pakistan to suffer a "rapid and sudden collapse"?
Most of us would guess Iraq. The answer is Mexico. The death toll in Tijuana today is higher than in Baghdad.
Yet some analysts fear that with militancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan now an administration priority, Mexico is not receiving enough attention. Ted Galen Carpenter, the vice president for defense and foreign-policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, writes in an editorial for The Houston Chronicle:
While US leaders focus on Afghanistan, Iran and other problems in distant regions, there is an alarming security problem brewing right next door. Violence in Mexico, mostly related to the trade in illegal drugs, is spiraling out of control. Even worse, it is increasingly apparent that the drug-traffickers are winning their fight against the Mexican government....
Indeed, Mexican drug gangs now operate in numerous cities throughout our country. Cartel enforcers have published lists of Americans, including police officers, who are targeted for assassination.
President Barack Obama must put the drug violence in Mexico at the top of his national security agenda. While it is premature to describe Mexico as a full-blown failed state, as some experts have done, the situation has reached alarming proportions.
Underscoring that concern, the Associated Press highlights the chilling extent to which drug violence is spilling right into the US's backyard.
Just as government officials had feared, the drug violence raging in Mexico is spilling over into the United States.
US authorities are reporting a spike in killings, kidnappings and home invasions connected to Mexico's murderous cartels. And to some policymakers' surprise, much of the violence is happening not in towns along the border, where it was assumed the bloodshed would spread, but a considerable distance away, in places such as Phoenix and Atlanta.
Investigators fear the violence could erupt elsewhere around the country because the Mexican cartels are believed to have set up drug-dealing operations all over the US, in such far-flung places as Anchorage, Alaska; Boston; and Sioux Falls, S.D.
MSNBC adds: "More than 200 American citizens have been killed since 2004 in Mexico's escalating wave of violence, amounting to the highest number of unnatural deaths in any foreign country outside military combat zones, according to the US State Department."
Amnesty International said Monday that Mexico glossed over human rights problems in its annual report to the UN Human Rights Commission, adding to criticism of President Felipe Calderón's army offensive against drug cartels....
Since taking office in December 2006, Calderón has dispatched tens of thousands of troops to fight warring drug gangs. Amnesty said those troops were implicated in 50 alleged incidents of unlawful killings, rape, torture and arbitrary detention between January 2007 and June 2008.
Mexico has instituted new procedures for training and screening police, but the government reported in November that almost half of the country's 375,000 police officers failed security, psychological or background tests.