Mexican Special Forces Employed as Death Squads in Drug War, Email Records Released by WikiLeaks Reveal
Specially Trained Troops Conducted “Surgical” Strikes on Narco-Trafficking Cells, Gangs and Addicts
Ciudad Juarez earned the reputation as the most dangerous city in the world as its murder rate ramped up exponentially between 2008 and 2011, with some 10,000 murders attributed to a “cartel” turf war being waged in the Mexican border community of some 1.2 million just south of El Paso, Texas.
However, a trail of email correspondence involving a Mexican diplomat obtained by the secret-spilling organization WikiLeaks seems to show that not all of the bloodshed in Juarez is attributable solely to sparring drug organizations — the narrative pushed by the US mainstream media.
In fact, the emails, which involve communications between a Mexican consulate officer stationed in the US and a Texas-based private intelligence firm called Stratfor, seem to support a theory advanced in a Narco News story published back in December 2008, just as the violence in Juarez was beginning to heat up in the wake of a surge of Mexican troops into the city.
The initial surge of Mexican troops into Juarez took place in the spring of 2008 and it was followed by another surge of some 5,000 troops the next year.
The 2008 Narco News story was based on an analysis of murder cases in Juarez between January and mid-July of that year.
From the story:
The one clear pattern that emerges from the data is that the murders in Juarez are, in almost all cases, not the result of random violence or shootouts between rival drug gangs. In most cases, they are cold-blooded assassinations, often involving coordinated teams of armed, sometimes masked, men who are making use of intelligence, surveillance and paramilitary-like tactics to take out their victims.
… Is Juarez a city in the grips of a death-squad campaign being carried out by paramilitary operatives of a corrupt Mexican military seeking to corner the narco-trafficking business, with the acquiescence, maybe even complicity, of the Mexican government — and with our own government now set to support this bloodshed through its funding of Plan Mexico [the Merida Initiative]?
The description in the emails obtained by WikiLeaks of the Mexican diplomat, who doubled as a confidential source for Stratfor and is codenamed MX1, matches the publicly available information on Fernando de la Mora Salcedo — a Mexican foreign service officer who studied law at the University of New Mexico, served in the Mexican Consulate in El Paso, Texas, and was more recently stationed in the Mexican Consulate in Phoenix (though, sources indicate, he appears to have recently been recalled to Mexico).
MX1, in one of the emails released by WikiLeaks, describes the Mexican military’s mission in Juarez as involving a special-operations and intelligence-unit component that was embedded within the larger Mexican military force. These special units were charged with carrying out “surgical strikes” against narco-trafficking “cells” and “third war” criminals.
Stripped of the military jargon, these special strike forces sound very much like death squads.
From MX1’s email correspondence with Stratfor:
So, as you have no doubt gathered by now, the National Security Council decided to really up the ante in Juarez. We expect 5,000 additional troops and up to 1,000 additional federal police. Among the new elements, there will be at least 10 specialized intelligence units, as well as special forces units from both the Army and the Air Force. One of the intelligence units will be from the Navy (not for publication).
… The military will surgically remove cells that had been previously identified, but for whatever reason were not taken down yet. Periods of adjustment will ensue, but the military will fill any void left in terms of territorial control, ultimately causing the competing DTOs [drug trafficking organizations] to wait/give up. [Emphasis added.]
… The first to fall will be those waging the "third war", as they are a bunch of retarded morons that have no chance against a force deployment of this size, and thrive only because of impunity.
The “third war” MX1 referred to in the email correspondence is described as follows in a 2009 article penned by Stratfor analysts Fred Burton and Scott Stewart:
This third war is the war being waged on the Mexican population by criminals who may or may not be involved with the cartels. Unlike the other battles, where cartel members or government forces are the primary targets and civilians are only killed as collateral damage, on this battlefront, civilians are squarely in the crosshairs.
In another Stratfor email, titled “Answers from MX1” and dated March 16, 2009, the Mexican diplomat goes into further detail about the Mexican military mission in Juarez.
Some have suggested that CDJ [Juarez] will be a laboratory of sorts for this massive strategy. If you look beneath the surface, you are likely to see some parallels between the tactics employed under
Democratic Security v2.0" in Colombia. We will see if this works or not, but my impression is that it WILL WORK, precisely because so many powerful people have vested so much political capital in making it so.
So, now, the interesting stuff:
• All of the Special Forces that arrived in [Juarez in] the last 32 hours come from Mexico City. They are the "paracaidistas" [paratroopers]. They were present in Juarez before, but never in these numbers. Some were previously deployed in Guerrero.
• Some of the Special Forces that have arrived have experience in fighting the Gulf Cartel throughout its traditional areas of operation. Others have also been active in Sonora and Sinaloa.
The bulk, however, was immediately prior in Mexico City, where some finished specialized training as recently as two months ago. This would be the first time that they have the opportunity to put that training to the test.
… • The Mexican Air Force Special Forces are well trained to be extremely discrete and precise in their operations. They will be used for very targeted operations down the line, but it is expected that they will be out on patrol for the first few weeks of the operation, unless we get enough actionable intelligence really soon to mount operations in the coming days.
Narco News published a story in April 2011, which would have been some two years after the second military troop surge in Juarez, but while the Mexican militarywas still very active in Juarez, that revealed a US company, L3-MPRI, a division of a major US contractor, was involved in providing training to Mexican troops.
The training, according to an Internet job posting published by the company, was 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 L-3 MPRI help-wanted ad states.
At the time the Narco News article was published in 2011, a spokesman for L3-MPRI denied that the company had an active contract in Mexico and its job postings for Project Sparta were subsequently pulled from the Internet — though Narco News had already made screen shots of the postings, which can be found at this link.
A Modest Proposal
An even more troubling revelation in the MX1 email trail is what the Mexican diplomat describes in a July 13, 2009, email as a “change in strategy” in the Mexican troop deployment in Juarez — a change that refocused the mission on a more “modest goal.” This new strategy is troubling in light of the wave of attacks in 2009 on drug rehab clinics in Juarez in which dozens of people, mostly recovering drug addicts, were slaughtered in commando style assaults. To this day, no one has really provided a definitive explanation for these senseless attacks — though some have suggested the “cartels” were seeking to kill potential informants at these clinics.
However, MX1’s description in the Stratfor email correspondence of the “modest goal” [eerily like that of Jonathan Swift’s “Modest Proposal”) seems to raise the quite troubling possibility that some of these assaults on the Juarez drug-rehab clinics may have been orchestrated by elements of the Mexican military.
From the July 13, 2009, MX1 email correspondence:
The larger picture of the change in strategy has to do with a more modest goal. As the major cartels have all guaranteed routes into the US, the addiction problem [in] Juarez is causing most of the violence. About 80% of kidnapping victims that survived that you talk to mention that their captors seemed to be high on something.
Therefore, a major component of the [Mexican military] strategy will be to prevent kidnappings and the like by directing efforts against drug addicts and gangs. Gangs are presenting major problems because they are pissed off at each other and their cartel bosses because they are not getting what they were promised. The more modest goal of combating the social violence is supposed to give some breathing room to the [cartel] bosses so that they can issue orders to calm things down. [Emphasis added.]
Gustavo De La Rosa, a well-known human-rights worker who was forced to flee Juarez after his life was threatened, raised similar concerns about the Mexican military’s apparent involvement in death-squad activity in an Oct. 3, 2009, article published by London’s Guardian newspaper.
De La Rosa, as quoted in the Guardian story:
There are execution squads [in Juarez], another breed forensically killing malandros [“down-and-outs, urchins, petty criminals and addicts"], planned assassinations of the unwanted. And if we look at exactly how they are done, they are experts in killing characteristic of training by the army or police.
I do not think these killings are the work of sicarios [cartel assassins], because I don't think that anyone would want to pay the money the cartel sicarios charge to kill malandros. Sicarios kill members of the rival cartel; you wouldn't need a sicario to kill malandros in a rehabilitation centre or abandoned house taking drugs.
I'm not saying … that the [Mexican] army is directly killing these people. But, in a city living in a culture of delinquency, soldiers become part of that culture. I kept a map and watched how these [death] squads move across the army checkpoints without hindrance. Until I was told to stop."
Narco News attempted to contact De La Rosa by email, but he did not reply prior to publication. Mexican diplomat de la Mora Salcedo and Stratfor also were contacted previously by Narco News for comment but have not responded.
One US drug-war agent who reviewed the 2008 data on murder cases in Juarez for Narco News had this to say back then about his take on the Juarez bloodshed:
They’re anything but random acts. Some of these murders are likely the result of cartel turf battles, but the numbers seem too high for the cartels alone. I don’t think they would be killing each other at that rate.
With the murder tally in Mexico now exceeding 100,000 since President Felipe Calderon launched his war on the cartels in 2007 — and is now well beyond 10,000 in Juarez alone — it seems the tired US mainstream media meme of attributing the carnage to “cartel” turf wars alone simply does not hold water, particularly in light of the revelations by MX1.
But such a dark truth will be hard to swallow for many, given it’s easier to believe, to accept, that only criminals are capable of murder. But in war, the rule of law breaks down, and the definition of who is or is not criminal is usually defined, in the end, by those with the most bullets.
That is the nature of the drug war.
But there is a bright side for those who are looking to profit from the horror, according to MX1, who shared the following aside in one of the Stratfor emails detailing the Mexican troop build-up and “surgical” attack plans in Juarez:
No doubt, interesting times ahead. Also, a pretty good time to invest in Juarez. Buy property, it is dirt cheap right now, but will be worth exponentially more as soon as things calm down. They will calm down.
Prior Stories in This Series:
Narco News was provided access to the Stratfor emails through an investigative partnership organized by WikiLeaks that includes journalists, academics and human rights organizations.