US-Trained Assassin Teams Now Deployed in Drug War
Former CIA Asset Who Revealed Presence of US Special Forces in Mexico Says Hit Squads Targeting Narco Splinter Groups
A small but growing proxy war is underway in Mexico pitting US-assisted assassin teams composed of elite Mexican special operations soldiers against the leadership of an emerging cadre of independent drug organizations that are far more ruthless than the old-guard Mexican “cartels” that gave birth to them.
These Mexican assassin teams now in the field for at least half a year, sources tell Narco News, are supported by a sophisticated US intelligence network composed of CIA and civilian US military operatives as well as covert special-forces soldiers under Pentagon command — which are helping to identify targets for the Mexican hit teams.
Evidence of this intelligence support network has surfaced recently even in mainstream media reports, in outlets such as the New York Times and the Mexican publication El Universal — the former reporting that "CIA operatives and American civilian military employees have been posted at a Mexican military base," and the latter reporting that elite US and Mexican troops engaged in joint training exercises in Colorado earlier this year.
But Narco News as far back as June of 2010 reported that a special forces US task force had “boots on the ground” in Mexico assisting the Mexican military in tracking down the top capos of Mexico’s major drug “cartels” – such as the Juarez, Beltran Leyva, Zetas and La Familia organizations. (The Sinaloa organization’s top leadership, however, has been left largely untouched, and by design if you believe the recent US court pleadings of Vicente Zambada Niebla, a Sinaloa leader now imprisoned in Chicago who claims a quid pro quo deal has been struck between the Sinaloa drug syndicate and the US government.) [See link].
Narco News also reported in April of this year that a unit of a major US defense contractor was advertising in the mercenary community for “site leads” who can help oversee the company’s personnel in Mexico and also coordinate “with Mexican Army officials” at a dozen training sites, called “VMTCs [Virtual Military Training Centers],” located in Mexico.
The information in the job posting described the US military contractor’s training network in Mexico as being part of an effort called “Project Sparta,” which is designed “to train Mexican Army soldiers in basic and advanced urban warfare operations” with the ultimate goal of creating an “Urban Warfare Elite Force.”
The “new specialized reaction force” will support “federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in the war against organized crime and the drug cartels,” the help-wanted ad stated.
Now, an official with the company posting the want ad, L-3 MPRI, claimed that “we don’t have a contract [in Mexico] to do that kind of work.” The ad was subsequently removed from the company’s Web site.
Regardless, the fact that the ad was posted at all on the L-3 MPRI Web site seems to indicate that someone in Mexico was seeking the “urban warfare” training services, even if L-3 MPRI did not get the contract.
One law enforcement source familiar with the situation in Mexico says training in urban warfare would be critical to any unit set up to wage an assault campaign on narco splinter groups.
What is key to all of these glimpses into US operations in Mexico is that they all seem to be focused on military strategies, not law enforcement. And the goal of the military, unlike law enforcement, is to neutralize the enemy on the battlefield — not bring that enemy to justice through the court system.
So it should be no surprise that information is now surfacing from reliable sources indicating that the US government is once again employing a long-running counter-insurgency strategy that has been pulled off the shelf and deployed in conflicts dating back to Vietnam in the 1960s, in Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s, and beyond, and in more recent conflicts, such as in Iraq.
From a 2005 report in the Sunday Times in the United Kingdom that reveals details about US plans to employ death squads in Iraq:
Under the so-called “El Salvador option”, Iraqi and American forces would be sent to kill or kidnap insurgency leaders, even in Syria, where some are thought to shelter.
The plans are reported in this week’s Newsweek magazine as part of Pentagon efforts to get US forces in Iraq on to the front foot against an enemy that is apparently getting the better of them.
Hit squads would be controversial and would probably be kept secret.
The experience of the so-called “death squads” in Central America remains raw for many even now and helped to sully the image of the United States in the region.
And the recognition by the Mexican and US governments, even though not admitted publicly, that the narco-trafficking business is “getting the better of them” is likely once again prompting the introduction of the death-squad strategy in Mexico, though adjusted for the unique conditions existing in that nation at this time, according to sources who spoke with Narco News.
Covert Military "Justice"
The US and Mexican government’s strategy of attacking the so-called "kingpins" of the narco-trafficking industry has failed to stem the tide of drugs flowing into the US nor has it reduced the number of players in the narco-trafficking business.
Instead, it has given rise to a slate of splinter narco-trafficking groups that have stepped into the power vacuums created when US or Mexican law enforcers and military have an occasional success and take out a top narco leader. Examples of those successes in recent years include the killing of Arturo Beltran Leyva of the Beltran Leyva organization, the capture of Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas of La Familia, and more recently of Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez of La Linea [The Line] -- the enforcement arm of the Juarez drug-trafficking organization.
Among the so-called splinter groups that have come onto the scene, many within the past year, include organizations whose names are not yet in the bright lights of the mainstream media: Mano con ojos, or Hands with Eyes; Mata Zetas, or Zeta Killers; Caballeros Templarios, or Knights Templar; Cartel de Pacifico Sur, or the South Pacific Cartel; Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion; and Cartel del Centro, to name but a few.
These so-called splinter groups tend to be extremely violent in their approach since they are competing more intensely against more organizations for a slice of turf in the drug-trafficking, arms-smuggling, contract-murder, kidnapping and extortion business, acting as criminal organizations in their own right. This “Hydra effect,” (whereby the elimination of one “narco-kingpin” gives rise to three or four more aspiring splinter-group kingpins) has become a big problem for both the US and Mexican governments and the veracity of their PR campaign in the drug war, which insists that the narco-traffickers are now on the run and the emergence of these splinter groups is an unimportant side note to be downplayed publicly.
The increasing violence sparked by these splinter groups, however, has translated into an overall escalating homicide rate in Mexico, where since late 2006 nearly 50,000 people, many innocent civilians and even children, have been cut down by the savagery and indiscriminate bloodshed of this drug war. Close to half of those murders have taken place in the last 18 months alone, marking the rise of the Hydra splinter groups — which are often enforcement cells, sometimes street gangs, that previously did contract work for captured or killed “narco-kingpins.”
The violent acts unleashed by these legion splinter groups, which are only now coming to light in the mainstream media (stories of victims tortured horrifically and hung from bridges alive before being shot to death, or of a face cut off and stitched to a soccer ball) have been noted behind the scenes for some time in the police reports and intelligence briefings of the law enforcers and military personnel now engaged in the drug war, sources tell Narco News.
And the response of the existing political and monied interests of the state to this threat, according to one of those sources, former CIA asset Tosh Plumlee, has been to take a page out of the “El Salvador solution," modify it for the current era, and go at these splinter groups directly but covertly — utilizing highly trained assassination units whose mission is to “neutralize” the leaders of the splinter groups before they can consolidate power.
Plumlee’s track record in getting it right on drug-war black ops has been established and is even now being recognized by mainstream media outlets like the UPI news service and Washington Times, both of which have quoted him recently as a source in relation to the drug war.
Narco News reported in June 2010 that a special-forces task force under Pentagon command was operating in Mexico. That report was based on information provided by Plumlee, who worked in the past as a CIA contract pilot in Latin America and still has deep connections in the intelligence world.
From the June 2010 Narco News story:
A special operations task force under the command of the Pentagon is currently in place south of the border providing advice and training to the Mexican Army in gathering intelligence, infiltrating and, as needed, taking direct action against narco-trafficking organizations, claims a former CIA asset who has a long history in the covert operations theater.
The U.S. unit, dubbed Task Force 7, since early 2009, according to the CIA operative, has helped to uncover a warehouse in Juarez packed with U.S. munitions and under the control of drug traffickers; provide critical intelligence that led to the raid of a Juarez sweatshop that was manufacturing phony Mexican military uniforms; worked with the Mexican military in uncovering a mass grave near Palomas, Mexico, just south of Columbus, New Mexico; and, behind the scenes, cooperated with the Mexican Navy in hunting down a major narco-trafficker, Arturo Beltran Leyva — who was killed by Mexican Navy special forces last December [in 2009] during a raid on a luxury apartment complex in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
That report was later supported by both a leaked Pentagon document that verified US special operations troops were active in Mexico as well as a State Department cable released by the whistleblower organization WikiLeaks. [See link for details.]
The cable released by WikiLeaks also verified that the Mexican Navy unit that conducted the operation against narco-capo Arturo Beltran Leyva (resulting in his death) “received extensive U.S. training” — which serves as further evidence supporting Narco News’ original reporting on the involvement of U.S. special forces in that operation.
The same cable also predicted that the killing of Beltran Leyva will, in the short-term (a period not defined precisely) result in a “spike” in narco-related violence “as inter- and intra-cartel battles [by splinter groups] are intensified by the sudden leadership gap in one of the country’s most powerful cartels.”
According to Plumlee, members of the same US special-forces task force that assisted in the takedown of Beltran Leyva are now providing intelligence support and ongoing training to the Mexican assassin teams set up to target the leaders of the proliferating narco splinter groups.
The mission of these specialized Mexican attack units, Plumlee contends, is to “neutralize” (kill) the targets. This is a new focus, since before the Mexican military was targeting the leadership of the major drug organizations for capture, if possible. But in this case, capture is not the goal, and the targets are the leaders of these hyper-violent, independent splinter groups that have sprung up in the wake of the shakeup, via capture or killing, in the leadership of the major cartels — with the Sinaloa organization, it seems, being protected from a fatal attack on its leadership.
Plumlee contends that the old-guard “cartels” also see these splinter groups as their enemies, given they are rivals threatening the stability of the existing business model, so in essence the Mexican assassin teams are also serving the interests of the dominate narco groups the drug war is suppose to be combating.
“Some of the intelligence on the splinter groups is actually being provided by members of the Zetas,” Plumlee claims.
There are supposedly at least three such Mexican hit teams operating now in Mexico (in the north, central and southern regions of the country).
These Mexican military death squads were supposedly trained by the US, though Plumlee does not know where. Also, Plumlee says the US task force personnel now working inside Mexico, as part of their intelligence support mission for the Mexican hit teams, are helping to identify and verify targets.
Truth Before the Narrative
Believe what you will, kind readers, but remember Plumlee has been proven right in the past on these matters, even though his assertions were ignored by the mainstream media and denied by US and Mexican bureaucrats. And now the reporting finally showing up in the “official” media, thanks to the perseverance of some remaining honest reporters, seems to demonstrate that the US intelligence community and military’s role in Mexico’s drug war is overshadowing any pretense of a purely criminal-justice approach to the continued enforcement of prohibition.
And there will be a price to pay should this shortsighted covert counter-insurgency strategy — one that employs among the oldest schemes in the US military playbook, death squads — continue to play out absent public scrutiny and accountability.
Former CIA case manager Leutrell Osbourne warned of that steep price in an interview he did with Narco News in 2009.
Osborne, who oversaw spies and assets for the CIA in more than 30 countries on three continents during his 27 years with the agency, says if he if he could tell President Barack Obama anything, it would be to focus the CIA and other U.S. intel agencies on counterintelligence and to do away completely with covert action, which is defined as anything involving dirty tricks — assassinations, state-sponsored terrorism, drug running, weapons trafficking, coups, psy-ops propaganda, etc.
“I’d like to get to Obama and help him, to let him know what he needs to cut out,” Osborne said.
The reason covert operational tactics need to be eliminated, Osborne explains, is because they are not effective and have been the source of most of the CIA’s problems over the years. He says the blowback against the United States from those covert operations is always more damaging than any benefit attained.
And for Mexico, that blowback can come, as it did in Central America, and Colombia, decades earlier, in the form of an institutionalizing of these death squads and a broadening of their targets to appease the paranoia and power aspirations of corrupt leadership and economic interests. The very soul of Mexico is at stake.