US Teaching "Counterinsurgency" Courses To Mexican Military in Drug War

State Department Report Details Special Forces “Mobile Training Teams” South of the Border

To fight the drug war in Mexico the US military conducted specialized trainings both inside and outside of the country with a focus on combating “narco-terrorism” and “counterinsurgency” conflicts,  according to a recently declassified report from the State Department and Department of Defense. The document (PDF), which details foreign military training in the 2009 fiscal year, sheds more light on to the kind of instruction Mexican soldiers were receiving from the United States as violence and deaths continued to increase in the country. This includes the deployment of “mobile training teams” that were used to teach special forces combat techniques.

“The United States conducts extensive counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics training, focusing its efforts on helping Mexico improve its air and sea reconnaissance capabilities to enhance their ability to detect and thwart illicit activity,” says the report when discussing the military training. “As a result [of the Mexican government's commitment to the drug war], levels of coordination and bilateral counter-narcotics cooperation have reached unprecedented levels.” Since Mexican President Felipe Calderón declared war on drug trafficking organizations in 2006, the Mexican military has played a major role in the drug war, taking over policing efforts in a number of cities along the US-Mexico border.

In October 2008, Mexican security forces attended a course on terrorism and counterinsurgency tactics at the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies in Monterey, California, with a focus on “reestablishing political stability, strengthening national security, and protecting the rule of law.”

Nearly a year later in September 2009, forces with the Mexican Army received training in a “Counter Narco-Terrorism Information Analyst Course” at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC, formerly the School of the Americas), according to the report.

The military school, located at the Fort Benning Army base in Georgia, trains students from Latin America and has a dark past of contributing to human rights abuses abroad. A course description states that the class provides soldiers lessons on “creating link analysis, correlating information, conducting Intelligence Preparation of the Area of Operations and creating target intelligence products in support of counter narco-terrorist operations.”

Along with listing the training of Mexican forces outside of Mexico, the report details the usage of “mobile training teams,” or, “mobile education teams,” generally used for military courses inside of Mexico. In August 2009, a mobile training team with the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU), a military school that teaches special forces tactics, trained the Mexican Army and Navy, the report shows. Unlike reports in previous years, the document does not detail the exact location where these trainings took place.

In October, when a Narco News investigation found that both the JSOU and WHINSEC were operating in Mexico, the State Department and Department of Defense did not disclose what they were doing or where they were located. At that time Alex Featherstone, the spokesman for the US Embassy in Mexico, said that the Department of Defense, through the Office of Defense Coordination at the embassy, holds “seminars, conferences, and meeting venues,” including for events that focus on “counter-narcotics efforts.”

The report, which only contains information the government chose to declassify, also shows that the US Northern Command (NORTHCOM) used mobile teams to instruct the Mexican Army from March until May of 2009. NORTHCOM, a military unit created in 2002 for homeland defense missions, is in charge of coordinating the training with Mexican military with help from the State Department. Through what NORTHCOM refers to as “mobile training team events,” the US military's work with the Mexican armed forces has “increased dramatically,” according to the unit.

The rest of the report alludes to a wide range of courses that include English classes, air warfare instruction, “rule of law” training, and counter drug operations. WHINSEC trained the Mexican Army “in the development of battalion-level staff and small-unit leadership skills in the areas of planning, leading, and executing counter drug operations.” The US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina trained soldiers in “international special forces training,” and the Expeditionary Warfare School in Quantico, Virginia taught Navy forces in “combined arms operations, warfighting skills, tactical decision-making and Marine Air Ground Task Forces in amphibious operations.”

Out of 796 trainings that are listed, only one course focuses exclusively on human rights. Problems with corruption, abuses and impunity in the Mexican armed forces got so bad that in September the State Department withheld $26 million from a $175 million payment in drug war funding. The money was part of the Mérida Initiative (Plan Mexico), a $1.4 billion security pact passed in 2008 in which the United States provides training and equipment to Mexican law enforcement and military personnel.

The trend is continuing. At the end of 2010—which was deadliest year yet in the drug war with more than 11,000 killed—the Secretariat of National Defense, which oversees the army, had the most complaints of human rights violations of any agency in the country. There have been more human rights complaints against the military during Calderón’s administration than ever before, and that's only a count of people who have enough faith in the justice system to report such incidents. While it's not clear which trainings listed in the report are tied to Plan Mexico, the growing relationship between the US and Mexican military has done nothing to curtail the drug war related violence or deaths.

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About Erin Rosa

Biography

Erin Rosa is a writer from Denver, Colorado based in the Western Hemisphere.